QB conversation -- analyzing Campbell, Smith


QB conversation -- analyzing Campbell, Smith

Sept. 8, 2011Follow @PGutierrezCSN Follow @MaioccoCSN
Paul Gutierrez Matt Maiocco
CSNCalifornia.com CSNBayArea.com

Hey, Paul, perhaps you've heard the news: Alex Smith is back as the starting quarterback of the 49ers.He enters his seventh NFL season with his seventh different offensive coordinator after the club made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft. The amazing part is he remains with the 49ers. Everybody, including Smith, figured the union would not continue this long.But plans have a funny way of changing. The 49ers hired Jim Harbaugh as head coach. Jim Harbaugh liked Alex or he saw no better options with a lockout looming. Smith liked Harbaugh. And next thing you know, Harbaugh presented Smith with bouquets, figuratively and literally.Harbaugh praised Smith repeatedly. Then, he handed Smith a playbook when the lockout briefly lifted on April 29. Smith taught the new offense to his teammates over the next few months, when the coaching staff could have no contact with players. Along the way, Harbaugh got NFL approval to visit Smith and his wife, Elizabeth, in the hospital after the couple's first child was born.
Mateo, my man.Funny you bring up Alex Smith. Because if you, and he, look across the Bay, you'd both see Alex's mirror image in the Raiders' quarterback Jason Campbell.I know, I know, their skill sets aren't exactly the same, nor are their immediate backstories with the Niners and Raiders. For one thing, coming into this season there was never a doubt Jason was the starting QB. Some poor TV reporter made the mistake of asking Hue Jackson at training camp in Napa who his signal caller was and Hue let him have it."You did not ask me that question," Hue bellowed. "He did not ask that question out here today. Does anybody know who the starting quarterback is of the Raiders? Are you kidding me? Doesn't he wear No. 8? His name is Jason Campbell. He is the starting quarterback of the Raiders. Period! Any other questions?"See what letting Bruce Gradkowski and Tom Cable walk gets you in Wine Town? A no-doubt-about-it vote of confidence.But I digress. Where Jason and Alex are the same is in each of them having a revolving door of offensive coordinators to deal with and offenses to learn EACH AND EVERY season of their NFL careers. At least Jason gets a break this year. He has the same play-caller in Hue and a familiar OC in Al Saunders, who dropped his legendary 700-page playbook in Jason's lap when both worked in Washington a few years back.
Alex Smith gets a break, too. Finally, his head coach is a person with an offensive background. If anybody should know what it's like to be Alex Smith, it's Jim Harbaugh.In fact, it's uncanny how similar their careers began. Both Smith and Harbaugh started 50 games in their first six seasons. Harbaugh completed 57.4 percent of his passes for 9,565 yards with 43 touchdowns, 45 interceptions and a passer rating of 74.6. Smith's completion percentage is 57.1 for 9,399 yards with 51 TDs and 53 interceptions, and a passer rating of 72.1.The best hope for Smith to succeed this season is an upgrade in coaching. Harbaugh is not going to turn Smith into a Pro Bowl quarterback overnight, but he can put him in more favorable positions to succeed.
Yeah, same thing with Jason Campbell. Hue Jackson gets a lot of credit for turning Joe Flacco into more than a serviceable quarterback in Baltimore. Granted, Jackson was never a quarterback in the NFL, like Captain Comeback on the 49ers sideline I just remember his leading the Colts' upset of the defending AFC champion Chargers in the 1995 playoffs. But Al Saunders was also behind the scenes with the Rams' Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis.Jason has what appears to be some quality coaching behind him so he should be able to continue his upward trend.Consider: Since his rookie year of 2005 (yes, the same as Alex), Jasons passer rating went up every year, from 76.5 in 2006 to 77.6 to 84.3 to 86.4 before it dropped a bit to 84.5 last year, his first year in Oakland. But you could make a case that his emotions being toyed with by a trigger-happy and, some would say, Bruce Gradkowski-obsessed Tom Cable contributed to that.Jason had to constantly look over his shoulder after every incomplete pass, every interception, every check-down, to see if he was being pulled. After Gradkowski was put on IR, Jason's confidence flourished.And that's where he is now the unquestioned starter who looks more comfortable than he's ever looked in Silver and Black, with a coach who has his back...without question.
Smith and Campbell are very similar, indeed. Although they were both first-round picks, the difference is that Smith was the No. 1 overall selection.People tend to forget that one of the people pushing hardest for Smith was a guy by the name of Mike McCarthy, who the next year became Green Bay Packers head coach. And because of the quarterback he didn't want, Aaron Rodgers, McCarthy is now a Super Bowl-winning coach.It's been a difficult road for Alex Smith. His detractors -- and there are a few -- have a word for the many obstacles that were placed in front of him in his first six NFL seasons: Alexcuses.Yes, it's doubtful that many (any?) quarterbacks could've endured all the weirdness, including nearly two full seasons on the sideline with shoulder injuries.But Smith certainly has not shown many flashes of brilliance, either. He has never put the team on his back and won a game. He has never taken advantage of his opportunities.Until late last season, Smith had never thrown for more than 235 yards in a 49ers victory. But he did it twice in a month, registering 255 and 276 yards in wins over Seattle and Arizona.
Yeah, I remember when the debate in the Bay Area was on who was the bigger No. 1 pick flop Alex Smith or JaMarcus Russell? We all know who ended up winning (or was it losing?) that debate. It reminded me of pro football in L.A. In 1985, when there was a contest as to who was the worst quarterback in the Southland the Raiders' Marc Wilson or the Rams' Dieter Brock?Thing is, Jason Campbell has not had such a harsh spotlight on him in the NFL.True, he was a surprise first-round pick, the third QB taken at No. 25 overall, one pick behind new NFL Golden Boy Aaron Rodgers. But Jason was never truly seen as a franchise quarterback. Indeed, the book on him was that he was solid if unspectacular, at best. He did not have to win a game on his own; just don't lose it.But when he came to the Raiders in that 2010 draft weekend trade for a fourth-round pick in 2012, he was signed to a one-year extension. And in his first training camp, he was compared to Raiders icon and two-time Super Bowl champ Jim Plunkett by no one other than Al Davis himself.Now that's some serious pressure to perform.
It is truly amazing that Smith has remained with the 49ers all these seasons. The reason he remains with the organization that drafted him is because he has done all the right things off the field.He does not show up late for meetings -- or fall asleep once inside. He's the proverbial first player in the building and the last to leave. Harbaugh trusted him with the playbook, film and PowerPoint material to install the offense to his teammates during the lockout.His teammates really like him. And, I believe, they have trust in him. But trust only goes so far. When the 49ers' players selected a team captain for offense after the final cuts, running backFrank Gore was chosen -- not the quarterback who organized everything at San Jose State in the offseason.Still, it's Smith's show. He is the starter. The two backups are rookies who simply are not ready to play, yet: Colin Kaepernick and Scott Tolzien.Now, that's some serious pressure to perform, too.
True enough, Jason Campbell is well respected in the Raiders locker room. But only to a certain point...though it's growing.Say what? Well, center Samson Satele spilled the beans in camp when he mentioned that guys were actually staying in the huddle the whole time to hear him make the call, rather than walking out to the line of scrimmage before he was done. Yeah, that's disrespectful, but at least it's changed, right?Besides, Campbell got more kudos this offseason when he teamed withRichard Seymour to organize the players-only workouts in Atlanta during the lockout. Campbell got the offense together while Seymour was in charge of the defense.Before that, Campbell had receiversDarrius Heyward-Bey, Louis Murphy and Jacoby Ford to his house for workouts, Murphy and Ford crashing on his couch and spare room.Respect has to be earned, and it seems like Jason is on his way, especially now that he's in the last year of his contract and is expected, to some degree, to help tutor young Terrelle Pryor.
Ah, are we already peaking behind these quarterbacks to see who might replace them?It's pretty clear the 49ers are counting on Alex Smith in 2011. Sure, they went after Matt Hasselbeck in free agency. Hasselbeck said it was a difficult decision, but he signed with the Tennessee Titans instead.They also brought in veteran journeyman Josh McCown, but they cut him before the start of the regular season. And Jim Harbaugh declined to comment whether the 49ers have interested in David Garrard, whom Jacksonville released this week.So, right now, the 49ers have Alex Smith as the starter and the two rookies. In other words, the 49ers are working without a safety net at the game's most important position.And it's not as if Smith was exactly durable in his first six NFL seasons, eiher. He missed four games as a rookie with a knee injury. He played every snap in 2006. But then he missed 10 games in 2007 and the entire 2008 season with injuries to his throwing shoulder. Last year, he was on the shelf again with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.The 49ers' hopes of ending their eight-year playoff drought hinge on Smith remaining healthy and playing the best football of his career.
As I mentioned earlier, Jason Campbell is in the last year of his contract and the Raiders used the supplemental draft to get their developmental QB of the future in Terrelle Pryor. So, no, it's never too early to peek behind the curtain.Especially when the backup quarterbacks are always the most popular guys on the team. And especially with Jason getting dinged up so often last year.It started in the preseason against yes, the 49ers, and continued throughout with assorted stingers and various nicks. In fact, the Niners against sent Jason to the sidelines this preseason when he took a knee to the helmet.Like any quarterback, so much of Jason's success is in staying on the field and staying healthy and, to some degree, the confidence flows from within.

Jim Harbaugh: I deserve a medal for lasting so long under 49ers ownership

Jim Harbaugh: I deserve a medal for lasting so long under 49ers ownership

In Kyle Shanahan’s first breath after being introduced as 49ers head coach on Feb. 9, he mentioned Jim Harbaugh, along with Bill Walsh, George Seifert and Steve Mariucci.

The head coach of Michigan was listening, and he appreciated the gesture.

“It was very flattering that he said nice things about us at his news conference, and I appreciated that,” Harbaugh said on "The TK Show," a podcast from Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group.

“Now, I don’t think I was there long enough to be compared with Bill Walsh or Coach Seifert, etc. But I think did – and correct me if I’m wrong – I think we did set a record for coaching there the longest under the present ownership, if I’m not wrong.”

That is correct.

Since John and Denise York took over control of the 49ers in 2000 from Denise’s brother, Eddie DeBartolo, the 49ers have employed eight head coaches. Mike Nolan was fired after seven games of his fourth season. The two coaches who followed Harbaugh -- Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly -- were fired after 5-11 and 2-14 seasons, respectively.

Harbaugh’s teams advanced to the NFC Championship Game in each of his first three seasons, including a Super Bowl appearance. He and the 49ers “mutually parted ways,” the club announced, immediately after the team finished with an 8-8 record in 2014.

“I take pride in that,” Harbaugh said. “Maybe there should be an endurance medal, a courage medal, for that.”

Shanahan mentioned Harbaugh during his opening remarks at the introductory press conference earlier this month:

“I’ve got to start out thanking Jed and the whole York family. Giving me this opportunity is, it’s a dream come true and it’s not just an opportunity to be a head coach, but to be a head coach at a place like this where you talk about Bill Walsh, you talk about George Seifert, Steve Mariucci, Jim Harbaugh and you can go down the line with the coaches.”

Said Harbaugh, “Just appreciated it. Appreciated it, and not just for me personally, but appreciated that for all the wonderful players we had and the wonderful coaches and the effort that was put in. People poured their hearts and souls into those years. It’s just appreciated that Kyle would make that comment.”

Harbaugh said he has deep respect for Shanahan and new 49ers general manager John Lynch, whom Harbaugh asked to speak to his Stanford teams during his four-year tenure as head coach.

“Yeah, I would’ve loved to have worked for John Lynch,” Harbaugh said. “He reminds me a lot of the athletic director we have here Warde Manuel, who’s also a former player and a teammate of mine. Common sense guys who are team guys, just the way they go about their business always speaks volumes.

“I thought John took note when they were going through the process. e didn’t want his name mentioned and I think that’s . . . I don’t know if a lot of people noticed that, but I think that’s a profound thing. I think that speaks volumes for who he is as a person. He wants to do a good job and it’s for the right reasons. He’s a competitor at the highest level, so I have great respect for that.”

Kawakami also asked Harbaugh about whether he believes quarterback Colin Kaepernick is still capable of being an NFL starter.

“There’s no doubt he can be an NFL starting quarterback,” Harbaugh said.

“I’m sure Kyle, the coaching staff there and John will meet on it, they’ll think about it, they’ll watch, much like we did when we got in there in 2011. And they’ll make the best decision they can for the team and the organization and it’ll play out the way it’s going to play out.”

Lynch's hirings of Peters, Mayhew left no room for Gamble

Lynch's hirings of Peters, Mayhew left no room for Gamble

During the month the 49ers had no general manager or head coach, Tom Gamble was the next-highest-ranking football official and was charge of the personnel department on an interim basis.

But CEO Jed York made it clear from the beginning Gamble, whom Trent Baalke promoted to assistant general manager just prior to the start of training camp last summer, would not be considered for a promotion to general manager.

John Lynch, with no front-office experience, was hired over Arizona’s Terry McDonough and Minnesota’s George Paton. Before Lynch’s introductory press conference, he hired two top lieutenants in the personnel department to usurp Gamble on the organization's power structure.

On Wednesday, the 49ers announced what had become inevitable: Gamble was leaving the organization.

“I must thank Jed, the York family and the entire 49ers organization for the wonderful memories they provided me and my family, but it is time I move on,” Gamble said in a statement. “This past month, I have had the pleasure of working alongside John Lynch and the talented staff he has assembled. The team is in capable hands and I wish them nothing but the best.”

Lynch’s first move as general manager was to hire Adam Peters away from the Denver Broncos to serve as 49ers vice president of player personnel.

Lynch worked alongside Peters when Lynch took part in Broncos meetings and prospect evaluations, which included a trip to the NFL scouting combine, prior to the 2013 draft.

“That month, month-and-a-half, I actually sat next to Adam every day,” Lynch told CSNBayArea.com. “Those are long meetings. I’d listen to him and we’d talk in between about players. I just saw way back then, he’s a guy who’s highly respected in the league. I firmly believe in two, three years, he would’ve been a GM. He was on that track, at least.”

During Lynch’s introductory press conference a week later, he announced the hiring of Martin Mayhew as senior personnel executive. Lynch and Mayhew were teammates in the secondary for Lynch’s first four NFL seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Mayhew spent seven seasons as Detroit Lions general manager. Mayhew should be able to provide Lynch with valuable counsel as learns on the job after spending the past eight seasons as a TV analyst on FOX.

“Martin has sat in the seat as a general manager and his experience will play an integral role in helping us locate the type of football player we want representing this organization both on the field and in the community,” Lynch said.

Gamble recently completed his 29th NFL season and his 10th with the 49ers in two stints. After he was fired as Philadelphia Eagles vice president of personnel late in the 2014 season, and came back to the 49ers in the 2015 offseason.

While with the Eagles, Gamble was one of the few individuals in the front office who worked well with Chip Kelly. Gamble played an important role in speaking up for Kelly and bringing him to the 49ers last offseason.

Kelly and Baalke were fired after the 49ers' 2-14 season, and the 49ers promoted the ability to create a fresh start when a new coach and general manager. While the 49ers were expecting Gamble to remain with the organization through the draft, his spot with the organization was going to be tenuous with a new regime.

“He is a class act who has helped a great deal in this transition, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him,” Lynch said in a statement. “After working together over the last month, Tom and I agreed that it would be in both of our best interests for him to pursue other opportunities.”