Thursday night's preseason finale against the San Diego Chargers yielded positive results for the team as a whole, including quarterback Alex Smith. The 49ers established a rhythm right out of the gate with Smith connecting on 3 straight passes to his receivers. In fact, the first two drives of the game led by Smith resulted in goal line touchdowns by runningback Anthony Dixon.
The quarterback that finds himself constantly in question seemed to perform as good as anyone could have expected. With newly acquired center Jonathon Goodwin making his first start, Smith looked comfortable with the pocket they were providing. He finished the game 8 for 10, for 45 yards and no interceptions.
Smith was making fast decisions, setting his feet and getting the ball out quick against the San Diego defense. He had command of the new offense from the very first snap of the game. Although preseason games mean very little, Smith was yet to have a decent showing with the regular season right around the corner.
The main reason Smith hadn't been able to get it going so far was due to the constant pressure he was under. The offensive line he played behind Thursday was made up of Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathon Goodwin, Chilo Rachal and Anthony Davis; the likely regular season starting line. I was pleased with the results.
Smith was stepping up in the pocket they created, and if it broke down, he wasn't rattled but instead made plays by scrambling or checking it down. He might've even had his first touchdown of the preseason if his pass to wide out Josh Morgan had not come short inches of the goal line. He showed development in progressing through his reads and making intelligent decisions. Also, there was an unshakable fluidity to his game that we haven't really seen, however, questions do remain.
What we don't know yet is whether or not Smith can be consistent from game to game, or even quarter to quarter. The regular season is when we will see if he is finally ready to be a starter in this league. With a 1-year deal, Jim Harbaugh is giving Smith his last shot to make it as a professional quarterback. At least for the San Francisco 49ers.
Not only that, Harbaugh has provided him with the tools to finally achieve a certain level of success by bringing in a big-play receiver in Braylon Edwards and adding veteran leadership to the offensive line with Goodwin. Along with Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, there are many up and coming youngsters like Kyle Williams, Ronald Johnson, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon, not too mention the dynamic that Delanie Walker and an improved Ted Ginn Jr provide. Smith should be relieved of the pressure of carrying the offense.
The west coast offense will be tailored for Smith to get the ball into his playmakers hands, allowing them to do what they do best. This is a winnable situation for Smith as he seemed to have taken the necessary steps to ensure his best season yet. He has approached this season with an all or nothing, team-first mindset -- he wants to win for his teammates.
That is the kind of attitude the 49ers teams of the 1980's and 1990's carried, and it was vital to the success they had. Football is the ultimate team game, and the organizations that make it in the NFL are made up of selfless hard working players. Alex Smith is going to have to put it all on the line this season; for himself, his teammates and the coaching staff that believes in him.
If he can consistently play they way he did this past game against the San Diego Chargers, he could be a top 15 or 20 quarterback in 2011. Niners Faithful should feel comfortable knowing Smith will be entering the regular season on a high note after that performance. Let's see if he can keep the momentum going when the 49ers open the season up against division rival Seattle Seahawks on September 11th.
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