Let's make this simple: Mike Martz was hired as San Francisco's offensive coordinator not only to take the league's 32nd-ranked offense off life support but to get a return from the team's most expensive investment, quarterback Alex Smith.
|Alex Smith: a $24 million investment hanging in the balance. (US Presswire)|
I have my doubts, which is why I consulted Martz. I respect him and trust him. More than that, I admire what he has done with his quarterbacks.
He turned Kurt Warner from an Arena League nobody into a two-time MVP and made Marc Bulger, a castoff from New Orleans, into a Pro Bowl quarterback. Then he turned journeyman Jon Kitna into a 4,000-yard passer, in each of the last two years, no less.
Now the assignment is to make a franchise quarterback out of Alex Smith, and it sounds a little like Mission: Impossible IV. Only Martz doesn't see it that way. In fact, he was remarkably unconcerned when I asked about the job he's about to tackle.
"When you look at him on tape, he's very talented," he said of Smith. "I remember him when he was coming out of college, and he was more impressive than he was on tape. He's very quick. He's smart. And the biggest attribute he has going for him is that he's so doggone accurate."
Those are descriptions I've heard before at the team's Santa Clara headquarters, only then it was someone describing Joe Montana, Steve Young or Jeff Garcia. Alex Smith never was confused with those three, and, unless Martz pulls a reprise of The Miracle Worker, he never will be.
It's not just that Smith has been slow to develop. He suffered a separated shoulder last season that had him sparring with his head coach over the severity of the injury, a public-relations nightmare that had outsiders questioning Smith's future with the 49ers.
Eventually he was put on injured reserve, but only after another disappointing season.
"Things were a little disjointed here last year," Martz said, "and then, of course, there was the shoulder injury. And the injury had a lot to do with (Smith's performance). But when you look at the year before when Norv (Turner) was here everything was going good."
Smith continues to recover from surgery to his right shoulder and, Martz said, should be able to throw by next month. What happens after that is up to Smith and Martz, who is convinced his quarterback will be ready by May.
"He's not the only one here," Martz said. "There's Shaun Hill behind him, and we brought in J.T. O'Sullivan (from Detroit). There are plenty of resources. Our offensive line is good. Our receivers will be better, and Frank Gore is the centerpiece of what we do.
"We clearly have more weapons here than we did in Detroit. We've just got to get (Smith) straight."