Steve Young: Smith has 'earned every bit of it'

September 13, 2012, 2:46 pm
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Steve Young, as well as anybody, can relate to the Alex Smith story.Young, who came to a team in 1987 that already had Joe Montana at quarterback, was not always the popular choice among 49ers followers. But Young persevered through a polarizing quarterback controversy and an unpopular Montana trade to the Kansas City Chiefs.He came out the other end as a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and a first-ballot selection into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.So when Young's team record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception was broken Sunday, he celebrated Smith's accomplishment because of the noble path Smith chose to continue to follow."The thing I most respect about him is a year ago in the offseason, when Jim (Harbaugh) was coming on, it was rough," Young told "He could've easily gone and tried it somewhere else. It was hard to come back in many ways. It was not easy. It was the kind of challenge that could've turned south very fast."He not only managed that with Jim and got through all of that last year, he built people's confidence inside and outside the building. By the end of the year, people were like, 'This is our guy.' That's an accomplish because I've lived it. That's a heck of an accomplishment. It's something I really respect about what he has done."In 1989, Montana set the 49ers record for most pass attempts without an interception (154). Four years later, Young bettered the standard at 184. That mark stood until Sunday when Smith played his sixth consecutive regular-season game without throwing an interception."Very cool," Smith said. "Obviously, that's an elite group here that's played this position for this organization. It's definitely an honor to be mentioned with those guys."Smith's record does not even include the 68 attempts in the playoffs when he threw five touchdowns and no interceptions.Smith eclipsed Young's record on a day in which he completed 20 of 26 attempts for 211 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-22 victory over the favored Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field."I was ecstatic for him," Young said. "I've lived his pain a little bit just watching him. And to see this start to flourish with Jim and what he did last year and then continue it and have a great game on the road -- all that stuff. It just couldn't happen at a better time."It's perfect, right? You beat the Packers and you did this great thing. So I'm really happy for him."Smith has thrown 11 touchdown passes since his last interception. During that time the 49ers have also gone 26 consecutive regular-season quarters without a giveaway of any kind."It's hard just because some of it is actually out of your control as a quarterback," Young said of interceptions. "There are tipped balls and weird stuff that happens. Or somebody turns the wrong way. It's just not easy to stay clean like that."I think it's a big deal. It's kind of how I feel about the efficiency ratings. They're not a perfect sign of how you're playing, but if your rating is high, you're probably playing pretty good. If it's low, you're probably playing pretty bad. So if you have a streak like that with no interceptions, you're probably playing pretty good."Young, now an analyst on ESPN, sees a quarterback who is playing at a high level after a rough beginning to his career. Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, struggled with injuries, inconsistent play and a constantly changing supporting cast through his first six NFL seasons."Obviously, he's very, very smart and very, very prepared," Young said. "And now he's got a partner in crime to call plays that help him and put him in good spots. I feel he's getting more confident and he's starting to stretch a little bit. I don't think he's asked, yet, to just throw it around and go. But that's not the way the 49ers need to do it right now. I definitely see a lot more confidence and all good things from Alex. For what they're doing right now, he's doing it perfectly."Young said the only time he questioned Smith's physical ability was after he sustained a separated throwing shoulder early in the 2007 season and returned to action to start three more games. Smith eventually underwent season-ending surgery, and spent all of 2008 on injured reserve, too."I was afraid he was playing hurt, but I never questioned whether he could throw the football or whether he could move around in the pocket or whether he was smart enough and had the savvy and guile," Young said. "When he injured his shoulder, he actually had to play hurt. That just compounded the issues."Everything about Smith -- and around Smith -- is more sturdy these days, Young said."I think he's getting bigger and stronger. And his confidence . . . He seems stronger in the pocket. It all goes together," Young said. "If somebody is calling plays you like, you got confidence, you got a running back (Frank Gore) where every time you put the ball in his stomach everybody lights up, that's great stuff. And the defense hands it back to you."He's in a really cool spot with everything that's going on with the team and the coach. Really, this is the team to beat right now. There are the 49ers and everybody else. I know it's early, but that's just how it is right now. It's kind of a neat spot for Alex to be in. And he's earned every bit of it."AP Images