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Joe Montana's and Steve Young's Thoughts on Current Quarterback Alex Smith

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So, the debate goes on and will continue to throughout the season. I am sure of that. And Alex Smith's future is about as predictable as flipping a coin at this point. Which is it going to be? Heads? Or will Alex Smith finally come crashing down on his tail this season? Will he get as many chances and seasons to prove himself as the number displayed on his jersey? Or will he play well enough to get an extension to wear red and gold for the remainder of his career? These questions can only be answered by Alex himself.

For some fans, the answer to the question is a simple one, "release Alex Smith immediately"... for others, it appears that there is still a bit of shimmering hope for him to live up to the first-round selection he was chosen to be, and that all it will take is an offensive-minded coach that puts true value and emphasis on the quarterback position.

I wanted to bring in some individual thoughts of two players who have meant the world to this franchise. It seems as both are about as split on their perception of the current 49ers quarterback as they were on who should have been the starter back in the day when they played for the 49ers.

Joe Montana and Steve Young were prehaps two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the position, and game. However, I believe that they have somewhat of a difference of opinion when it comes to the 49ers first-round selection of 2005.

The proverbial horse continues to be beaten, and yet, it still appears to be alive and kicking to save its own life.

Follow below to get some comments and quotes from the two legends... and a bit of commentary by yours truly.

I wanted to lead off with Joe Montana's quote first but I suppose I will save the best for last. A bit of kidding, but seriously...

Here are some of the words that Steve Young said about Alex Smith on KNBR in September of last year. Some fans felt at the time that the comments were taken out of context but it is hard to say with all the criticism that Young has had for Smith over the last few years.

Here is the quote:

"I think Alex is a competent quarterback. I think Alex understands the game, and I'm telling you there's a reaction -- similar to Matt Leinart. He can't get out of third gear. He throws the nice ball, he can drop back. But when things get fast -- fast, fast -- you can tell, he just can't quite keep up. You really can't win jobs when you can't keep up."

Basically this says that Young believes that Smith is a competent quarterback but then follows-up with saying that the game is too fast for him. It's really tough to make out what exactly he is trying to say. But it sounds a lot like he feels there is a lot of work to be done. Or maybe it means that he feels Alex understands the game but does not have the instinct to play. Which is a lot of what we hear from the folks that do not believe that he can be successful at this level.

Young also had this to say back in Novemeber of 2009:

"If he is really only able to thrive in the spread, then that might not be the dilemma of the week, but it is the dilemma of the year and onto next year as to exactly how they are going to do that," Young said. "Now, I can't believe that if you can play competent quarterback in the spread that you can't transition to understand how to play quarterback in the I (formation). I did it and all of the above and it just doesn't seem like that is all that hard to do."

Here Young basically says I am better than you Alex Smith because you have not been able to thrive in a pro-style offense. Tooting your own horn is okay when you are one of the best to ever play. It really is. But he leaves out a lot of context here in regards to Smith's protection in years previous. However, he does not specifically say that Alex cannot do it. He even drops the "competent" word in there for the first time; second time in this post.

I am not sure how much stock to put in to this. Some folks have gone to the extreme in that Young does not and will not ever endorse Alex Smith. However, I don't really get that feeling. I get that he, like some other fans, is waiting for Smith to prove he belongs.

With that, I will leave you with these last quotes from Young:

"They are stuck with an All-Pro running back (Frank Gore) that needs a certain formation and then up-and-coming stars that need another formation," Young said. "And they have no way to meld the two because they really aren't compatible."

"There is no reason why we can't get Alex to get under center," Young said. "It is a matter of time, if we can withstand the growing pains of doing that. But there is no reason he cannot get somebody under center in the offseason and really work it out."

It sounds like the Hall of Fame quarterback has his doubts like the rest of us, but has not totally and completely written him off to date. This last quote was again from 2009.

Now on to the great Joe Montana's comments...

I am not sure as to just how each of Montana's or Young's evaluations are of quarterbacks that are playing nowadays, so each quarterbacks comments can and should be taken with a small grain of salt. They both played the position at a very high level but it doesn't always necessarily mean that they can evaluate talent very well. If it were totally true, Mike Singletary would not have fought so hard to draft Taylor Mays, right?

Anyway, in a recent SF Gate article (August 28th, 2011), Joe Montana has this to say about Alex Smith:

Q: With all the changes for the 49ers, do you think this is the kind of offense that quarterback Alex Smith can thrive in, based on what you've seen? Do you think he will be more comfortable with the Harbaugh offense?

A: One of the things I've seen with Alex is that when he's been put in bad position with down and distance, (there weren't) many guys he could throw to without throwing 30 yards. There were times I looked and it's 3rd-and-18 and now he's got four guys going 20 to 30 yards downfield, so what do you want him to do? He's either got to throw it into traffic or take a sack or throw it away, so none of them are very good options. This offense will give him an opportunity once he understands it. Guys who are used to holding onto the ball and throwing it deep sometimes have a tough time understanding and making that transition right away to, "Oh, it's OK for me to gain 4 yards on first down."

Again, not a ton of stock should be put in to this stuff. But it should at least hold some consideration.

Here Montana doesn't go too far out on a limb but he does somewhat endorse the former first overall selection from 2005. In my opinion, it seems as though Joe could see some potential there but realizes the importance of having some protection in front of you as a quarterback. And also the importance of having manageable 3rd downs, which in the past few years as we all know very well was most often 3rd and long.

While Montana doesn't really go all out saying Smith is the next Peyton Manning, it seems like he feels a quarterback can be successful in this offense and really does not have to do all too much other than get it in to the playmakers hands on quick, fast plays.

As evidence of this next quote:

And the tumultuous 49ers’ quarterback position with Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith?

Montana: Once the quarterbacks figure out that system, and he learns that other guy’s role and that other guy’s role, big plays will happen. But you don’t have to make it happen every time. Just keep the ball moving. Keep the completions coming. I think you’ll see a difference as the year goes on.

And this one as well:

With the West Coast offense coming back to the Bay Area, any thoughts?

Montana: When Stanford was recruiting my youngest son, [Harbaugh and company] were telling me the plays and they were word for word [laughs] for what we used to call when I played for the 49ers. They probably have their own twist; I'm sure it's evolved. But the essence of the base is still there.

He doesn't come out and flat out say that Smith, or Kaepernick will be successful in the West-Coast offense but he does give reasons why they can be. He elaborates to say that Harbaugh has adopted a lot of Walsh's terminology and is running with it. It almost sounds as though he is saying the quarterback needs to take on the concept of playing similar to that of an NBA point guard. Just get it in to your guys hands and don't think too much in to it, things will eventually happen.

One of the most widely assumed things out there right now in regards to Smith is that he over-thinks the game. That he just does not use "the force" (so-to-speak). When he is out there just having fun and letting it fly on the rare occasion he does, he plays the game flawless.

Harbaugh's largest challenge is not working on Alex Smith's footwork, or his 3 and 5 step drops, or any kind of mechanics, his biggest challenge is getting Alex Smith to realize that the game can be simplified. That there are some things you want to recognize immediately and others that are not so important. And that this is a game of feeling and reacting accordingly.

And who knows, maybe Alex will never develop that "feeling" for the game. But then again, sometimes all it takes is a little attention from someone who cares. Harbaugh seems to have adopted a certain level of care and respect for the 2005 number one overall first-round selection.

Here was his bold statement in January of 2011:

"So excited, yeah, I’m going to say it, I’ve been studying Alex Smith and watching him and I believe that Alex Smith can be a winning quarterback in the National Football League," Harbaugh said. "I’m excited to work with him, get to know him."

And on his attributes:

"Very accurate passer," he said. "Very athletic. And a guy that has played and been durable."


We all need to accept that the future is impossible to predict. There have been times and moments in all of our lives that people have doubted us. As much as we all doubt Alex Smith right now, the same doubts were made by many for no-name college players out of Notre Dame like Joe Montana, or players that were considered to be "busts" like Steve Young who had a wile ol' ball coach like Bill Walsh put his faith forward, or like Jim Harbaugh who saw something there even though Smith has up to this point considered to be a "bust".

The truth of the matter is that Alex Smith may or may not pan out; that is the only thing we can say for sure. He may flop this year, but he may not. None of us know as a matter of "fact".

The point of this post was to bring in some points of views from guys who have had the experience at the position and played at a high level. While Steve Young remains a little more of a skeptic, a guy like Joe Montana is not counting anything out.

Jim Harbaugh made an endorsement of Alex Smith and my thoughts are that he is going to do everything in his power to get Alex Smith to where he needs to be. A coach's endorsement of a particular player is very important and can go a long way if he truly believes what he is saying about that player. If he is to turn Smith around, other players will take notice and will respect him as a man and a coach a bit more.

If it doesn't work out for Harbaugh, there is still a young, athletic, very gifted rookie waiting in the wings as a back up plan.

I know it's probably too much to ask for, for some because the hate of Alex Smith justifies people's reasoning to be negative about the franchise. But I'd just plea that some of you tone it down some until we see a bit in the regular season. Consider some of the new context. Give the guy a shot under a coach who really seems to care about the position. If you're at a game, don't boo the guy if his offensive line lets someone in for a clean hit when he is firing off a pass. See things for what they are and blame the right people. If Alex makes a boneheaded play, blame him of course, but if a lineman lets a blitzer in, or a running back whiffs on a block, just make sure you are pointing the finger in the right direction and not just chalking it up as "well, another bad game for Alex, I told ya so".

We are all Niner fans. This does not mean we need to always see things eye-to-eye. But we all cheer for the players that suit up in red and gold. And in cheering for the team, it's probably a good idea that we want whoever is on that field to succeed no matter who they are.