I'll confess - I was a teacher for about twenty years. There's an old adage in the teaching profession, "To learn, teach." In other words, if you really want to master a concept, teach it . Why?
Basically, it's human nature - we tendto think we understand something when in fact we only have a superficial understanding of it without really grasping the complexities of the underlying knowledge. A perfect example is the kids that cram the night before the test and "Have it" only to walk out of the exam the next day shell-shocked - they had the big picture which lead to the "I've got it" over-confidence but not the fine detail that is actually required to put the concept into practice.
One technique teachers use to address this is to have students teach the concepts to each other with the aim that through the process of answering each others questions, the "teacher" is forced to connect the overall concept with the body of knowledge on which it's based to form a coherent body of knowledge.
And you're asking yourself, "What has this got to do with football?" I'll see if I can bring it home....
By all accounts, Alex Smith is a very smart guy and one thing smart people tend to do is rely on theirr smarts. They don't tend to "wing it" or make it up as they go along (eg: Brett Farve, etc.). Like anyone, they tend to use their strengths to their advantage and in Smith's case, that's his intelligence. I recall the now famous comments from Smith's university coach:
"It's going to be interesting in San Francisco, 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."
- Urban Meyer
By now you're probably starting to connect the dots. Whether by design (and if that's the case, Harbaughis more a genius than we give him credit) or just pure happenstance, Alex wound-up holding the 49er playbook during the period when the guys who wrote were the only ones on Earth that COULD NOT teach it to the team. On to whose shoulders falls the task of installing the new offense? Well, you know the story - Alex Smith.
I'm sure there were plenty of days when Alex is walking through the playbook with the guys down at SJ State when they'd asked him about thenuances of the offense and Smith didn't have the answer. I suspect Smith, like most young teachers, would make up one of those little fibs we tell when we're not too sure and move on as quickly as possible. But, I also suspect that Smith is the type of guy that the second he got home at night, he'd pull the playbook out and use his smarts to figure out the answer he didn't have earlier. And remember; he's doing this WITHOUT Harbaugh's help - he's got to figure it out on his own. Anyway, by struggling through this process, Smith acquired a true command of the Harbaugh playbook which lead to the confidence that Meyer alluded to above. And there is the true change in this 49er season - Smith's (finally) got it!
Now, I don't want to take anything away from Harbaugh and his staff, simply watching the team you know they are doing a fantastic job. I am saying that either by design or happy circumstance, in a very odd way, I'm not sure the off-season could have gone better for our guy Alex Smith.