As the offseason slowly works its way to a close, the next couple weeks provide players with a few last opportunities to relax and enjoy themselves. 49ers QB Alex Smith will be getting a little golf in as he takes part in the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe. The event is a celebrity golf tournament and Smith will be making his first appearance. The tournament will feature a variety of football players, but it should surprise nobody that quarterbacks are among the most prominent NFL players.
The tournament runs from July 17 to July 22, but in the meantime, Smith took part in a conference call with his former college coach, Urban Meyer. It was a fairly lengthy call, but I pulled out some pertinent questions and answers for Alex. You can listen to the entire 40 minute call at the tournament website.
There were plenty of questions about Smith's golf game and you can check out the audio if you're wildly concerned. But thankfully there were plenty of football questions as well. We did get a lot of the usual cliches, particularly when Alex discussed the QB position, there was still some interesting content, particularly related to the QB position in a variety of contexts.
Smith had a chance to re-address his comments about Cam Newton. While he did not retract them, he did clarify his thoughts, particularly as it relates to passing yards. He spoke about passing yards per attempt being a better measure in his mind. It is interesting to note that the 49ers were 6-0 in games where they out-passed their opponent. That could mean nothing or everything, but it's interesting to consider.
On whether Alex is changing his perspective on Cam Newton and his previous comments
"I was really more going after the whole passing yards statistic, and I don't believe there is a great correlation to winning in the NFL. I don't buy it. I think if you're going to look at a passing statistic that has greater correlation to winning, it's probably yards per attempt. And I obviously got carried away there and was going, but for me it's about winning games. I said the same thing last year. You know, we played the Saints in the playoff game and yea that offense is pretty prolific and throwing for 5,000 yards, but for me I'm trying to score more points than the other team. I don't really care how we do it. That's our philosophy at the Niners. We got a lot of different ways to get it done. We're gonna make you defend the whole field. I don't really care how many yards I throw for as long as we score more points than the guys we're playing."
And of course, he was asked about the Peyton Manning situation. Specifically he was asked if this served as motivation and if there were any sort of hard feelings about the Manning saga. We've heard most of this over and over again, although it was interesting that he mentioned that things were a little awkward for about a week.
"Certainly there are a lot of forms of motivation and different things come ... I guess that's there a little bit as far as motivation, but as far as hard feelings with Coach Harbaugh, I don't think I ever had hard feelings. You know it was a little awkward there I guess for about a week...kinda in limbo and what's going on. BUt the good thing with Coach Harbaugh form the first moment I met him, he's always been up front, always told me the truth, even if it's something you don't want to hear, and I've always appreciated that. So, never hard feelings, it's the nature of the game in free agency. I really felt like with what I did last year, it's my job to compete for. I really earned that right and certainly wasn't going to give it up to anybody, I don't care who they were. It's over and done with now. Obviously it grabbed a lot of headlines, but now season's approaching and I'm looking forward to getting ready for camp."
Smith was also asked about how the 49ers adjust to no longer being the hunter and instead being the hunted. They are the hunted in terms of being on everybody's radar, and being a favorite, but having some up short last season in their bid for another Lombardi Trophy, they still are hunting for that, which helps boost the expectations and motivations for the team.
"I really feel like the expectations inside our locker room are higher than any of them outside our locker room. I think that's a great thing. Each and every guy in there expects great things from us, from our team, and demands a lot of ourselves. I think that's a great thing. Yea, it'll be a little different, but there's no easy games in the NFL. Every week's a battle"
The most interesting part of the discussion, in my mind, was when Alex addressed his relationship with Urban Meyer and how it compares with Coach Harbaugh. He described some of the similarities, and then how those similarities impacted his play in 2011. The most interesting comment was probably when he said the big thing in improving with Coach Harbaugh was that he created clear expectations about the QB position.
Harbaugh vs. Meyer - how are they similar?
"I think there are definitely similarities. For one, practice habits are things that jump out to my mind. I really felt like in college with Coach Meyer, the thing that really separated us was how hard we worked and I always felt like our practice habits were better than anyone else's and kinda really took us to the next step...I really feel like that's what Coach Harbaugh brought back to us. I really feel like our practice habits are the best out there. We get the most out of our practices, even with these new regulations and things going on. We're really efficient, we get a lot of out of them. You know, they're tough. We get a ton of reps in. I think it starts there. I think that the biggest thing from both of them is selflessness. Team first mentality is constantly being preached. And in both circumstances I think both teams really bought in and I think that's what changed both those situations around is the selflessness attitude. Everybody putting the team first and working for the better of the team and I think that's what really changed things."
How much did similarities between Meyer and Harbaugh play into his 2011 success and development?
"Oh a tremendous amount. I think and I'm not talking scheme here, but I think for a couple things, one: clear expectations of the quarterback position. What is expected of you, what is your job, what is your role, those types of things. There was no gray area. It was very clear what you were responsible for, what you need to do out on the field and in the locker room. Then the other thing, like I said, the selflessness. The more I think about it, is a huge similarity. The team, the team, the team. I mean it sounds cliched, but really everybody thinks team first. I really do think the best team's gonna win. You can have a bunch of good players out there, but if they aren't playing together and playing for each other, I don't think that things are gonna happen."
Smith was also asked about Colin Kaepernick and his development. This brought out some of the most confident remarks from Smith. He specifically pointed to the battle for the number two QB position. This isn't shocking by any stretch, given what Coach Harbaugh has also said, but it's always interesting to hear such forceful comments.
On Kaepernick's development
"Colin, since he got here has worked extremely hard. Obviously he has all the physical tools. Can run, can really throw it. Just a matter of kinda picking everything up. I mean, a young player, he played in a unique college system. I think picking up the pro system, getting under center, those types of things. I think last year was great for him, a good learning experience. It's kind of an open competition at the two spot between three talented guys. You know Colin's right there. Camp's gonna tell. You're gonna get pads on, 11-on-11 situations and that's when it's all gonna play out. It's tough to really tell in spring with just helmets. You know, not gonna get a good feel for game-like situations ... Colin just continues to work hard. He's gonna be fine."
Has he made progress or is the accuracy an issue
"I've never had a problem with his accuracy. I certainly don't see any problems with his accuracy. I'm not really sure where that came up. I think Colin's a heck of a player. I'm not sure how some of these things got reported. The beat writers are only coming out a day of the week during spring, and not sure where these are coming from. He's a good player. It's a tough competition. I think they're really good players. This is probably the deepest quarterback group I've been apart of. Three guys like that, they can all play. It will be interesting. That will be a battle to watch.