Sept. 6, 2011MAIOCCO ARCHIVE
49ERS PAGE 49ERS VIDEO
On the day that cuts were made to 53 players, the 49ers held a vote to select their two captains for the season.
The result of the vote was interesting. It spoke to what the players value from a teammate.
Leadership might be great, but the quality that swayed the 49ers players was production.The defensive captain is Patrick Willis, an understated tackling machine who has been named to the Pro Bowl each of his first four NFL seasons. He is on pace for a Hall-of-Fame career. Willis is the 49ers' best defensive player.
The captain on offense is running back Frank Gore. His team-record streak of four consecutive 1,000-plus-yard rushing seasons ended last year when he still gained 853 yards despite missing the final five games with a fractured hip. Gore is the 49ers' best offensive player.
When coach Jim Harbaugh announced Saturday which players were voted as 49ers captains, it was only natural to begin to think about which players were not chosen.
Of course, there was one name that immediately came to mind . . . Alex Smith.
Smith was the leader for the 49ers during the five months when the 49ers needed somebody to step up and take charge during the lockout.
Smith was the point person with San Jose State officials to arrange for his teammates to use the Spartans' weight room and fields. The players were not allowed to have any communication with the 49ers' coaches and were banned from the team's property. Smith served as director of football operations, head coach, offensive coordinator and, yes, starting quarterback during that time.
Harbaugh handed Smith a copy of the 49ers' playbook when a judge ordered the lockout lifted for one day in late-April. The next day, the lockout was back in effect after the NFL appealed to a federal court.
Smith spent a month studying the playbook and perusing the PowerPoint material and film he collected from the 49ers' coaching staff. Then, he got in touch with every 49ers offensive player to arrange two weeks of playbook study sessions and on-field work.
The result was "Camp Alex," which gave the offense a head start they would not have otherwise been afforded. Smith's work was commendable -- especially considering he had yet to sign his one-year, $4.9 million contract. Gore and right guard Chilo Rachal were the only 49ers offensive players under contract, then and now, who did not attend any of the sessions.
Smith has done everything in his power to give himself the best chance of having a successful season. And, sure enough, Harbaugh named Smith the starting quarterback for the season opener after he outplayed rookie Colin Kaepernick in practices and in the four exhibition games.
Beyond that, Smith has a lot to prove in his seventh NFL season after being the No. 1 overall pick in 2005.
Coach Mike Singletary named Smith a captain prior to last season. But when Smith did not produce as well as Singletary had hoped, the coach lost faith in Smith and gambled his future on the play of Troy Smith. Singletary was fired, landing a job as Minnesota Vikings linebackers coach, and Troy Smith is still waiting for the phone to ring.
Alex Smith is the 49ers' quarterback and, thus, he must be viewed in the locker room as a leader.
There is little doubt he is one of the most-liked players on the 49ers. His teammates recognize Smith's perseverance, conscientiousness and commitment. All those qualities are great. If Smith did not do all the right things off the field, there is no chance he would still be suiting up for the 49ers.
But it's also clear that leadership by example -- performance on game days -- is what ultimately wins the respect of the locker room.