Joe-Pinions: Sports

13 Jan 2012 – Alex Smith

Posted in Football (NFL) by txtmstrjoe on 13/01/2012

I have always liked Alex Smith.

I’ve defended him over the years despite everything that’s been said about him.  49ers fans have largely had nothing but bad things to say about him, and the press has followed suit.  Most of his coaches have even gone so far as to humiliate him in public.

But I can honestly say that I’ve always seen something good in him.  Back then, I guess it was just a simple admiration for his intellect, as well as an appreciation for his genuine class as a person.  Few professional athletes are as polite and modest as Alex Smith.

Nowadays, though, after a year under head coach Jim Harbaugh’s guidance and tutelage, we see a different Alex Smith emerge from the chrysalis:  We see a man of iron determination.

What else could he be made of, having endured so much crap over his entire stay in San Francisco?  Lesser men would have left his situation years ago.

Deciding to stay, to prove to all the doubters and the haters that he is a good quarterback, a quarterback who still hungered to join the roll call of greats playing his position on the team that has always been about the quarterback, exposes the truth about Alex Smith:  He had only ever wanted to have the chance to get there.

With his team’s and his coaches’ help, he stands at the brink.

The time is now for Alex Smith.

If I had his ear, I would implore him to live in the moment, to cherish the here and now.  I’d advise him to take to heart the hard-won lessons of the past.  Leave history where it belongs, far and away in the rear-view mirror.  He should blind himself from supposedly-perfect hindsight; after all, what’s done is already done, and there’s no changing what has already happened.

If he still hears the boos cascading down from the stands onto the sacred ground that is Bill Walsh Field at Candlestick Park, be deaf to them.  After all, these are nothing but echoes from the past.  The past doesn’t matter nearly as much as the here and now do.

If he still hears his old coaches’ admonitions, whether given in private or tossed out in the harshness of the media spotlight, I’d tell him take from them whatever valuable lessons he cared to take.  Whatever else, I’d say to him to just don’t believe it when they said he was meek, or soft, or that he just didn’t have what it takes to be the leader of his team.  If they were right, how could he be where he is now, leading his team in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs?

If ever he read the countless column inches proclaiming that he was a bust of a draft pick, that he would never measure up to Montana or Young or even Garcia, I’d tell him that all those guys were nothing until they all played and won their first playoff games.  Every journey starts with a single step, the first step, and for Alex Smith his journey, his quest towards validating his place amongst the NFL’s greatest quarterback tradition begins on Saturday, January 14, 2012.

He doesn’t have to approach this as a shootout between himself and Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints’ excellent quarterback.  To his credit, Smith himself has said that that’s not the point.

It’s not about who throws for more passing yards, or who throws more touchdowns.

As Smith said, all that matters is who wins at the end.

And the best way for Alex Smith to do that is to be Alex Smith as he has been all throughout the 2011 season.

That means making good decisions, starting with whether or not to go with the called play or to check to a different one depending on what the defense is showing pre-snap.  Only Smith and his teammates know what he means when he yells either “Let it roll!  Let it roll!” or “Kill!  Kill!  Kill” at the line of scrimmage  every single time they line up.  That secret knowledge is an advantage, and one that Smith has exploited very well this year.

But more than just the pre-snap adjustments, Smith has done superbly at not making the killer error, the kind of mistake that destroyed his team’s chances at victory that had been the hallmark of his past prior to head coach Jim Harbaugh’s arrival in San Francisco.  Five interceptions over sixteen games’ worth of pass attempts is superb, no matter how you care to slice this onion.  Montana and Young, Hall of Famers both, never threw so few interceptions in any of their seasons at the controls of the San Francisco offense.

To be Alex Smith means making timely completions.  Smith has notably made some really big throws at key moments, including the game-winning touchdown pass to Delanie Walker on a quick slant in Detroit.  He doesn’t need to throw a lot of passes, or to make every single throw; no quarterback is perfect.  Not even Drew Brees (or Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning, or Aaron Rodgers, or whoever else you care to name) can do that.

To be Alex Smith means being a tough athlete.  He has taken hits in games when his offensive line was a confused mess, but he always got up, dusted himself off, and kept on going.  He has been superb at using his legs to earn yards when his receivers were covered, and his protection was breaking down.  Positive yards all add up in the end when you consider just how critical having good field position is.

To be Alex Smith means being a tough, athletic, intelligent quarterback.  That’s who he is, what he is.

And that’s all he needs to be from here on out.

2 Responses

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  1. Tim said, on 17/01/2012 at 03:31

    Prescient indeed, Joe. Alex surely proved beyond all doubt on Saturday that he can be so much more than just a game-manager. That beautiful throw to Vernon Davis down the left sideline. His determination on The Run to do more than just settle for the first down. The final drive.

    Alex Smith has hung in there during a season in which we have struggled for consistency at wide receiver and at times on the offensive line. And he kept coming back, dusting himself off and delivering wins. He may not be a pure passer on an elite passing offense like Drew Brees – but he is one game away from the Super Bowl. Not so shabby.

  2. txtmstrjoe said, on 17/01/2012 at 20:00

    Indeed, Tim.

    I’ve watched Alex these past few years, and I have nothing but admiration for the man. I can’t imagine living with all that negativity in my own job. The fortitude and strength he must have to not only endure with the minimum of complaining (and, believe me, if there ever was a man who might be justified to complain, it’s Alex Smith), but to keep on coming back for more just to achieve his goals is nothing short of heroic.

    I’ve never been one to “hate” Alex Smith (and believe me, there are many in the Bay Area; maybe it’s because I live in Los Angeles that I’ve been immune to that); I’ve always thought that he got next to no help from his previous coaches as far as helping him develop into a better quarterback. For someone like Alex, who hungers to learn but depends so much on having a teacher, that’s the kiss of death. But it’s quite telling that his teammates, both past and present, have always been supportive of him. Coaches Nolan and Singletary may have taken their liberties on him, but Smith just kept on working despite less than ideal circumstances. To this day, though, his teammates have nothing bad to say about Alex Smith, and in Coach Harbaugh and his offensive staff he finally has the proper structure to succeed.

    As you say, Alex Smith will probably never be considered as a great quarterback; he just doesn’t play on a team which would allow him the opportunity to accumulate the stats like the Bradys and the Breeses and the Rodgerses in the NFL do. But when you really stop and think about it, that’s something he shared with one Joe Montana. Joe in his day was never thought of as Elway’s equal, or Marino’s. He never really put up the gaudy numbers during the regular season. But, boy, when the rest of the team was on song, Montana led the 49ers to victory. Montana is as great as he is not because of the yards or the TDs; it’s because he was came through in the clutch.

    I forgot who said it, but here is a saying about Montana (and, for one glorious playoff game, and hopefully for many more, Alex Smith) that I’m always mindful of: Great players aren’t great all the time; however, great players become great when they need to be.

    If there’s a summary of Alex Smith’s 2011-2012 season, I believe that’s it right there.

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