I once wondered why anyone would want to watch the poor, downtrodden San Francisco 49ers. Then I started paying attention to their quarterback and, suddenly, I found my answer.
Alex Smith can play.
|Think Alex Smith is happy to have Norv Turner as his new O-coordinator? (AP)|
It allowed another impressionable young quarterback to sit at the feet of Turner, and the results speak for themselves. Not only does Smith have as many touchdown passes as Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, he has half as many interceptions.
And that's huge.
Hey, it was only a year ago that Smith put up some of the worst numbers posted by a No. 1 draft choice: one touchdown pass, 11 fumbles and 11 interceptions. But numbers didn't tell the whole story. If you watched him he look uncomfortable, confused and indecisive, and it seemed as if it took him forever to throw the ball.
Then Turner arrived and, brother, what a difference. Maybe what we're seeing here is nothing more than the maturation of a gifted young passer, but I swear that when Smith unloaded that 72-yard touchdown pass against St. Louis I was looking at a different quarterback.
The ball wasn't thrown as much as it was launched ... and it arrived on time and on target. "That's the biggest thing," said Turner. "From day one, we've been working on his getting back and speeding up everything. Plus, we wanted more arch on the ball so it was coming more over the top."
What's over the top are Smith's numbers. Last weekend against the Raiders he missed only four of 19 attempts and threw a career-best three touchdowns. Against the Rams he averaged 10.5 yards per attempt and wasn't sacked. Against Philadelphia he threw for a career-high 293 yards. His only stinker was a 41-0 blowout in Kansas City, but that can happen to young quarterbacks.
|Trent Dilfer is the ideal backup QB for Smith. (US PRESSWIRE)|
"With young quarterbacks, you find out the things they do well and make it easy for them," said Turner. "And that's play calling. People don't understand this is a different competitive level, and for a young player it takes time."
Which is precisely the point to what's happening here: Smith is beginning to catch up. Joe Montana didn't happen overnight. Steve Young endured a rough start in Tampa Bay before finding himself in San Francisco. Hey, even Jeff Garcia struggled when he took over as a 29-year-old rookie, benched after five starts in 1999.
For Smith, what's happening now is the culmination of months of study and work. He spent the offseason in the Bay Area, learning the 49ers' new offense from Turner and working on how to improve as a quarterback. It was San Diego all over again, where Turner schooled Drew Brees -- only this time Norv's pupil was younger, bigger and more talented than Brees.