The San Francisco 49ers fly out for Kansas City today as they prepare to face the Chiefs Friday evening at Arrowhead Stadium. Roster competition is the name of the game in the preseason, but we'd be foolish to pretend there isn't the underlying Alex Smith storyline.
This is a preseason game that doesn't matter in the standings, but it's still the first matchup between the 49ers and their former No. 1 overall pick. The eight years Smith played for the 49ers were a roller-coaster of emotions. It started with some folks having a sense of hope for the future, and others disappointed that the 49ers did not draft local product Aaron Rodgers. Although hindsight is 20/20, that did not diminish that part of the debate.
I don't know if the story of Alex Smith's time in San Francisco is unprecedented, but it was certainly plenty crazy how the highs and lows rode out. The lowest moment had to be when the fans were booing him and chanting "We want Carr!" during the Eagles game in 2010. The high point was the playoff victory over the New Orleans Saints a year later.
Jim Harbaugh came to town between those games and Alex Smith was willing to give it a second chance in the Bay Area. Given the lockout in place, it made sense for Smith to stick around. Even though he was learning a new playbook, he had a lot of the same teammates around, and had an entire offseason at least with his fellow players to get ready.
That being said, he's also repeatedly mentioned how the easy option would have been to move on. He recently spoke with the media about the upcoming game, and had a few comments specifically about that. Eric Branch has a transcription of the Q&A:
For me, the one thing I was trying to do there - I felt like so many times quarterbacks who may have been in a similar situation where things didn't go well - it's so easy to move on immediately. Not to say it's right or wrong, but sometimes I just felt like sometimes the easiest thing isn't the right thing. I wanted to try to make it work. I felt like we had the talent there to do that and I wanted to that. I felt like once you go down that line of jumping from place to place: I felt like so many guys have done that and I don't feel like it ever turns out very good for them. That was my decision a few years to try to come back and coach Harbaugh gave me that opportunity. And that's why I was willing to do it.
Smith media availability meant we had a whole host of articles about Alex Smith vs. the 49ers. Here are a few of those links (I recommend the Q&A linked above first):
Former 49er Alex Smith settling into Missouri life - Inman
Alex Smith: I made peace with 49ers fans, organization - Maiocco
Small-hands Smith: How a myth is born ... and never dies - Barrows
Alex Smith is learning from Kaepernick's old coach; "Very ironic," he says - Barrows
Earlier this week, Jim Harbaugh had a chance to discuss Alex Smith. Here is a transcript of two questions about his former quarterback:
Have you begun game planning for QB Alex Smith or watching film? How strange will that be this week for you?
"It's personal with Alex. It probably is different in that way. And, feel like there's a great friendship there and a lot of history. He's a unique person. A very good, in all ways, a good friend. No longer on our team. Not a trusted agent anymore. I know the competitor he is and he wants to win and we do as well. I'll be able to tell you maybe more afterwards. But, yeah I think it will be, it feels different right now. Long and good memories of the time when we were teammates, a personal friendship. Then we wish him the best. A long and healthy and successful career."
How much do you owe him just because of the circumstances in which he took the job, the lockout and what he was able to do, really doing a lot of the work of the coaching staff during those months when you couldn't have any contact with the players?
"Certainly that and a long, long list of things. And, great memories of his leadership and his play. Just the kind of person he was. You go up and down the locker room, a guy that was universally respected by his teammates and his coaches. Long list of great memories."
Greg Roman also had a chance to discuss Alex Smith:
Just flipping ahead a couple of days, when you've been so instrumental in the development of the quarterback, what's it going to be like for you to see QB Alex Smith on that other sideline Friday night?
"He's a nameless faceless opponent. Loved working with Alex. Very happy for Alex's success. Very appreciative of all the contributions he made while a 49er. Wish him nothing but the best. He's a fine, fine competitor and quarterback."
The other interesting aspect of this matchup is the notion that the 49ers players can actually hit him during the game. When Smith was 49ers quarterback, the rule is defensive players can't hit the quarterback in practice. Now that he's on the other side, the players get a chance to sack and generally hurry him.
Matt Maiocco had an interesting response to a tweet about potential big hits:
.@tschaub8 Alex Smith has as many friends on 49ers as any 49ers player. There are no hostilities. Defensive guys will let up, if anything.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) August 15, 2013
When Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense are on the field, I'm going to try and keep an eye on how the 49ers pass rush behaves when they get close (assuming they do). Given that it is a preseason game, there's a little less on the line for the defensive starters, so we'll see what comes of it.
The emotions of the 49ers fan base appear to be mixed. Some fans do not care one way or another now that Smith is on another team. Others are excited to see what he can do with the Chiefs. And others look back fondly, but are also ready to move on.
Whatever your viewpoint on Alex Smith and the Chiefs, it's going to be a little weird seeing No. 11 running around in a Chiefs jersey facing the 49ers defense. I kind of am glad that this first matchup is in the preseason, when wins and losses don't matter. Not that I will be cheering for Smith against the 49ers, but it makes any success have against the 49ers defense a little easier to handle. Of course, when the 49ers and Chiefs square off in the 2014 regular season, it will be an entirely different story.