Alex Smith's New-Found Flair a Good Thing
By: The Football Girl | Posted: May 30, 2012
Just minutes after he hit Delanie Walker on a slant for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to lead San Francisco to a comeback win over Detroit last season, Alex Smith was largely hidden in the locker room. Yes, he was there for Jim Harbaugh’s fiery victory speech, which was largely focused on the great defensive effort, but it wasn’t until Smith was singled out for being clutch that he become part of the celebration. The seventh-year quarterback, seated about four layers away from Harbaugh, as far away as you can get, let out a huge smile that looked half cathartic and half as if he were saying “who, me?” Even though the 49ers were 5-1 at that point and clearly headed to the playoffs, Smith’s demeanor was that of a guy feeling the effects of so many losses and so many coaches over the years. He was still just happy to be there.
But heading into the 2012 season, Alex Smith is a changed man. It started during the Peyton Manning sweepstakes when the 49ers were mentioned as a serious contender. Smith, who had grown used to a frequent mantra of “Alex Smith is our guy” from Harbaugh, was insulted and immediately jetted to Miami to talk to the Dolphins about their always-vacant quarterback slot.
More recently, when asked about his low passing numbers, Smith proceeded to call passing yards “an overblown stat” and tried to prove it by throwing Cam Newton under the bus for “throwing for a lot of 300-yard games,” but not winning.
Smith was wrong on both accounts. Only Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Eli Manning have the resumes to be insulted if their team were to pursue another starting quarterback. Smith ingratiated himself to Harbaugh and to the rest of Niners Nation last season (finally), but Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning, and winning trumps loyalty every day.
Of course, Smith was right when he said winning trumps stats. But it was rather foolish to single out Cam Newton who, by the way, only had three 300-yard games last season. The Panthers won four games, and if the Niners didn’t boast the top rated defense in football they likely wouldn’t have won much more.
The silver lining in Alex Smith’s little bouts of lightening if that he finally has some flair that has been absent his entire NFL career. He has moved beyond fighting for his job week to week and is now clamoring to graduate from manager to leader. There is a new intensity in Smith that is so healthy for a starting quarterback. All the great quarterbacks come with a dose of oomph and selfishness whether it’s Brees running up the score to break Dan Marino’s single-season passing record or Eli Manning declaring himself “elite” well before he actually was. They all want respect, and now Smith is no different.
2012 will be a pivotal year for Smith. The entire starting defense is returning. He has a solid three-headed running attack in Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Brandon Jacobs. The offensive line should be improved. Most importantly, for the first time in Smith’s tenure they have given him a real wide receiver corps. On the surface, the difference between wins and losses will fall squarely on Smith’s shoulders.
How Alex Smith follows up last year remains to be seen. While he is no longer a league laughingstock, grouped with JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf as a big bust, the 49ers offensive playbook has been ultra-conservative under Smith. Perhaps this new confidence and intensity off-the-field is a sign of more exciting things to come on it.
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