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GameDay: Alex Smith Game Manager Myth

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Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith drops back to pass against the Seattle Seahawks in the second quarter of an NFL football game at Candlestick Park on September 11, 2011 in San Francisco. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Dennis-O'Donnell_BIO-HEAD Dennis O'Donnell
Dennis O’Donnell is the Sports Director at KPIX 5. He has received...
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CBS 5 Sports Director Dennis O’Donnell hosts “Gameday” every Sunday night at 11:30pm and offers his unique sports analysis here.

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) - Alex Smith, game manager or “elite” NFL quarterback?   Given Smith’s history since being the first overall pick in the 2005 draft, I’m amazed this discussion is even taking place.

Smith has gone from scapegoat draft bust to a very solid quarterback.  And that should be good enough for San Francisco 49er fans who were clamoring for Kevin Kolb.  Is Smith better than solid?  Perhaps, but there isn’t enough evidence to draw any conclusion other than what we’ve seen and what he’s been asked to do.  For argument’s sake, let’s compare Smith to Carson Palmer.

Alex is asked to work within the framework of an offense that revolves around the run game.   With the exception of the New York Giants game, Smith is not expected to go vertical or carry the load. In Oakland’s offense, the game plan goes vertical. Big time vertical. And Palmer is the quarterback who is ASKED to execute that offense.  The distinction is that Palmer is required to do more than Smith. It’s not a knock or Alex or his ability, it’s just a fact of how each offense operates.

So Alex, wrongly, gets labeled as a “game manager.”   Smith ranks 26th in the NFL with just 2 passes of 40+ yards. Aaron Rodgers ranks first with 9.  Kevin Kolb ranks seventh with six of 40+.   Smith’s 190 average passing yards per game rank 30th.  The point is that big completions don’t necessarily translate into wins.

Anyone who has watched the 49ers closely sees Smith’s responsibilities increasing with each game.   Can anyone tell me a test he hasn’t passed?  He has three fourth-quarter comebacks including a game-winning touchdown on 4th down.  Smith is the highest ranked 4th-quarter quarterback in the NFL and his 95.8 rating ranks seventh overall, in front of names like Roethlisberger, Stafford, and Hasselbeck.

In the pre-season I watched practice and Harbaugh’s personal tutelage and reconstruction of Smith physical and mental game.  And every week I still go to 49er headquarters to interview Harbaugh for my weekly TV show.  A few weeks ago there were two people left on the field after practice. Smith and Harbaugh.  Smith was coming off a game in which he’d been thrown to the turf several times after releasing the ball.  Harbaugh was coming at Smith and showing him how to better protect himself from the hits after releasing the football.  The learning and relearning continues for Alex Smith.

Game manager?  In the words of Smith after the Giants game, “I don’t care as long as I manage a win.”

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