Alex Smith shows a new side to his game

October 13, 2011, 2:27 pm
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It's all starting to make sense now.On the day the 49ers selected Alex Smith with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft, his college coach, Urban Meyer, provided a prescient perspective of the young quarterback.Six-and-a-half years later, Meyer's words are worth revisiting."Alex is an extremely quick learner," Meyer began. "However, he's a guy that, until he understands it, he is nonfunctional. . . . Alex Smith is a person that, once he is taught, has to learn it all. He might struggle early, but once he gets it, he gets it."I'm going to be anxious to watch his development with the 49ers. Alex is so careful with the ball. His touchdown-to-interception ratio the last 2 years (at Utah) was phenomenal (47 touchdowns and seven interceptions). That's because, unless he knows exactly what's going on, he won't throw it. He won't just try to guess and take a shot. He has to know."Meyer concluded, "That's why, early in his career, and early in our career with him at Utah, he was not an effective passer, because he really didn't understand. Once he understood, there was no one better. He learns quickly, though. But he's not a guy that you throw the ball out there and tell him, 'Go play.' He wants to know what is exactly expected of him and then he becomes a dynamite player." Alex Smith is coming off a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in which he completed 11 of 19 passes for 170 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.But the play that impressed me the most was an incomplete pass he threw in the second quarter. I've watched every snap of Smith's professional career. I've seen him in practice through the years.What I saw him do Sunday against the Buccaneers was something I'd never seen him do -- ever. With as many changes as Smith has endured in his seven-year career, it looks as if he is finally just going out and playing football.
It was a first-and-10 at the Tampa Bay 45-yard line. Smith dropped into the pocket. He rolled to his left to buy a little extra time. Then, he did something that, seemed almost out of character.
He signaled with his left hand to tight end Delanie Walker to abandon the script and go deep. In six seasons, I've witnessed a mostly robotic, paint-by-numbers quarterback. This is the first time I saw him improvise in such a way.The fact that the pass fell incomplete into the end zone was of little consequence. The play might have been symbolic of something greater."We were just playing football," Walker said. "That's something Alex hasn't ever done before. It kind of shocked me a little bit. I think that's why I misjudged the ball. He saw I had the dude beat and nobody was behind me. I came back and he was like, 'Go! Go deep.'"That was the first time doing it, so we weren't on the same page. Now, we're going to be on the same page. He wanted to put it on my outside shoulder to lead it away from the safety that was playing inside. It was basically playing street football."When I asked Smith about the play, he said he and the 49ers' offense are getting a lot more comfortable and confident."When you're comfortable with what you're doing, you're making good decisions and in your head the play slows down," Smith said. "So when a play breaks down, you stay under control."The epitome of that is when I watch Aaron (Rodgers) and the Packers. Everything is under control. All of a sudden, when it's not there, he remains so fluid and under control and there's never a breakdown or anxiety. He's so comfortable and they're so comfortable, and everything is under control, so they play faster because of it."I think there's a little of that with us. But I think we have a long way to go, and I have a long way to go."

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