First off, since I'm pretty new here, let me introduce myself. I am a 17 year old high school senior who's been a Niners/Giants/Sharks/Dubs fan since I was young (I have two Croix de Candlestick pins, both from the same game - I was 4 years old, so I received 2, especially after my parents told the person handing them out that I had been the one who had begged to stay - sadly, I don't remember this). I joined McCovey Chronicles around early June - maybe a week after that game - and decided to join the other SB Nation blogs as well. I haven't had much time to be around, with both school restarting, college apps, and busy Sundays, but my Sundays are now clear so I'll be able to spend some more time on this blog.
Going into this season, I was determined that the future quarterback for the Niners was not on the roster. While I was happy that Harbaugh had brought back Smith - I was determined that if CK7 was to succeed, he'd need at least one year as the backup - I didn't see Smith as anything more than a one year stopgap who would be playing his final season in SF as the 49ers rebuilt. I expected him to lead us to maybe 4 wins, and was hoping that he might do even worse so that we'd have a shot at a real QB (namely, Andrew Luck).
Well, I was right about the 4 wins part - I was just missing the time frame. Smith's play has been a revelation this season, and he's been one of the best QBs in the league. His game against Tampa Bay was nothing short of a masterpiece, despite him only throwing 19 passes in only 3 quarters of action, and the Niners are out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes but instead have a good shot to make the playoffs in large part due to his play. While he's not quite playing like the #1 draft pick we hoped we were getting back in 2005, he is playing with confidence, making good throws, and most importantly, playing mistake free football.
So what caused this dramatic turnaround? Jim Harbaugh certainly deserves some credit. Having an old QB as a coach is definitely beneficial to someone who, for the most part, has had defensive-minded coaches his whole career. As well, Harbaugh's scheme is well designed for Smith, as it has him throwing on the move quite a bit, a strength of his. The improved offensive line helps - it's been awful for his entire tenure as a Niner, but is finally beginning to come around and allowed 0 sacks last week. And, of course, we need to take sample size into account - any quarterback can look like an MVP for 5 weeks before the SSS clock strikes midnight, and the football turns back into a pumpkin.
I am extremely tempted to get up on my stat nerd podium, declare that the past 5 weeks have all been a sample size-induced mirage, and say that Smith is going to start sucking it up again soon. And I definitely do expect a little bit of regression for him as the season goes on. But actually, there could be an argument made that he could, in fact, get better, and this season, too.
Everything I know about anything says that Smith - and, for that matter, the Niners - should have started slow and gotten better as time went on during this season. He's working in a new scheme that he's never been a part of, going back to his spread-offense days at Utah, with a new coach, and he didn't even have a full offseason to learn the new system. It was supposed to be that he made mistakes early and settled in by the end of the season, if anything.
In addition, it's not as if his receivers have been great. We are all aware of the greatness of Vernon Davis, and Delanie Walker is good as well, but his best option at WR hasn't even played this season, and should be back in just a few weeks. With Edwards back in the offense, the Niners might be able to stretch the field even more and get Smith more options. Really, all signs point to him improving rather than regressing. At worst, I think he will continue to be a competent game manager, not turning the ball over and never losing us the game, and it is possible to advance deep into the postseason with that kind of QB - just ask the 2000 Ravens (though our defense isn't at that level yet, it has the potential to be eventually).
With that being said, it's time for the 49ers to ask themselves a question that would have sounded absurd this past offseason - is Alex Smith the answer? Assuming he keeps playing at this level, his price tag should increase at the end of this season, and while the Niners have some cap space, they might want to give Colin Kaepernick the starting job by next year. While we haven't seen much from CK7, what we have seen is positive, and he might be ready to take the reins by next year. Still, I wouldn't be against bringing back Smith, especially if he continues to play like he did against Tampa Bay. This could be his chance to rejuvenate his legacy in San Francisco. We expect our QBs to win us Super Bowls, like Joe Montana and Steve Young, and while I can't see this Niners team winning the Super Bowl over teams like the Packers and the Patriots, I think this team has the potential to be Super Bowl winners sometime in the near future, and I think that Alex Smith could be the quarterback that takes us there.