One of the more frequently mentioned stories of the 2012 offseason has been about Alex Smith working on his mechanics. The 49ers QB spent time in March working with "pitching guru" Tom House at USC in an effort to improve his QB skills. House is primarily known for his work with pitchers (Barry Zito recently, but Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Orel Hershiser, and Cole Hamels previously), but he has also worked with Drew Brees and Joe Flacco. His work with Smith also coincided with time spent with Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Matt Cassel.
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh chatted about Smith's mechanics after practice yesterday. Ni9er pointed it out in a FanShot yesterday, and I wanted to pull out those comments from Coach Harbaugh's transcript. You can also view Harbaugh's comments in a video after the jump.
Alex talked about how he's been working on his throwing motion with pitching coach Tom House in San Diego. What do you see that you're trying to help him with and how much needs to be done?
"It's been really good. We've had a chance to have an offseason now and work on some of those fundamental technique drills. We're coaching and we're tinkering. He's doing that as well. As you said, he went down to see Tom House down in San Diego, and I think he got some good drills. Working on his core, working on some mechanical issues that he saw slowed down on the super slow motion video tape. We're getting out here on the grass and working on the drop, working on some ball position, some ball carry and throwing motion, as well. I've seen some really good dramatic improvements."
What's ball position and ball carry?
"Where he carries the ball and where he positions it before."
Okay, where he carries it?
"Before he makes the throw, yeah. A lot of footwork drills and all the quarterbacks. Kap (Kaepernick) has been doing really well, as well. There are things we're working with him on, and he's working on. [QB] Scott Tolzien is doing the same thing as well as [QB] Josh [Johnson]. Really pleased with that whole group."
According to Tom House, via the Eric Branch article I linked at the top, Alex Smith's throwing mechanics were related to the surgeries he had on his right shoulder in 2007 and again in 2008. It does not say whether they are the sole reason, but in reading the article it seems like the surgeries were at the very least a major reason for it:
Smith had subtly altered his motion after his surgeries, most notably shifting the position of his head, which affected his eye level and release point.
This would seem to provide some clue as to why Smith had not addressed the issue previously. The comments do not address what, if any, mechanics issues existed before the shoulder surgeries. I'll try and look a bit more into that because the Branch piece does not indicate one way or the other. I shot an email off to Tom House with some questions related to that, so hopefully he responds.
The surgeries were four and five years ago, but given that Coach Harbaugh only joined the team last year, it is not surprising that it would have taken this long to get this mess sorted out. Mike Nolan was long gone by the time Smith returned from his second surgery, and Mike Singletary did not strike me as a guy with an eye for quarterback mechanics. Of course, 2009 QB coach Mike Johnson and/or 2010 QB coach Jason Michael could have potentially spotted this as well, but what are you gonna do? The 49ers of 2009 and 2010 were a mess, so it is not surprising things struggled along.
I suppose Smith could have figured out the problem himself prior, but it is entirely possible he thought his mechanics were not an issue. And considering the craziness of that stretch for Smith and the 49ers, again, I could see how something like this could be overlooked. This was not exactly a model organization at that point.
It remains to be seen how this will play out on the field in 2012, but Coach Harbaugh's enthusiasm is a plus. Maybe it will be a game-changer, maybe it won't matter one bit. More than likely it will fall somewhere in the middle, but we'll have to wait and see what impact it has on the passing game.