Anytime Alex Smith and the 49ers QB situation comes up, great passion arises. It's understandable for their to be some frustrations based on performance, or lackthereof. Combine that with the brief but winning performance of Shaun Hill last season and you've got some combustible material.
Matt Maiocco ran a story yesterday in which he addressed the question of "When is a bust officially a bust?" We all know that's about Alex Smith and he addressed it as such. I took a couple of interesting points away. He cited a 2005 quotation from Alex Smith's former Utah coach Urban Meyer:
"It's going to be interesting in San Francisco," Meyer said. "Alex is an extremely quick learner. However, he's a guy that, until he understands it, he is nonfunctional. He is a guy that -- I keep hearing how Brett Favre kind of makes something out of nothing and is a person that runs around to make a play -- Alex Smith is not that kind of player. 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 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.
"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.'
After this quotation, MM pointed to Smith's comments about how Mike Martz leaves nothing to chance and gives his quarterbacks all the answers.
I've always read about how Martz is very meticulous and provides multiple options. If what Urban Meyer said is accurate, I could certainly see that leading to some improvement by Smith. Or am I grasping at straws? MM made a good point about Smith's interceptions as a 49er that could either sink my hopes or lend credence depending on how you look at it:
When you think about it, you'd be hard-pressed to think of bad interceptions Smith has made in his career. There have been times when he simply made a bad throw. But there have also been interceptions where the receiver ran the wrong routes or the ball tipped off the hand of the intended target. There have been times when he's tried to force the ball into a receiver in a desperation situation. But there haven't been the instances in which he made a horrible read and took an unnecessary, careless risk.
While a lot will be on Smith, the receivers will certainly have to make plays as well. While the 49ers don't have spectacular receivers, this is probably the most depth they've had since Nolan took over. Isaac Bruce knows the Martz offense and as a former QB Arnaz Battle should be able to pick it up. If Bryant Johnson and Vernon Davis can master the playbook as well, maybe Smith won't have as many passes bouncing off receivers' hands (yes, I'm looking at you Darrell Jackson).
There are countless variables including the receivers, the quarterback, the offensive line and the running backs. That is one definite reason it is so hard to predict what kind of production the 49ers will get at quarterback. We can wish and hope all we want, but we need a consistent effort across the board to see any kind of success.