If Anthony Dixon created the most buzz among the 49er Faithful yesterday, safety Reggie Smith was right behind him.
Smith made the single biggest play of the 49ers’ 37-17 victory over Indianapolis. On the third snap of the second quarter, with the Colts driving, he found a tipped pass coming his way. Smith secured it and took off for a 91-yard touchdown that cut into the Colts’ 10-0 lead and began the Niners’ onslaught.
“It was actually two short routes and one deep, and just kind of breaking on the ball, it happened to pop up, so I was in the right place at the right time,” Smith explained. “Picked it up and the rest was history.”
It was a splashy play, but as Smith suggested, there was an element of luck to it. Not so the play that ended Indy’s first offensive possession of the game. The Colts set up at the San Francisco 18-yard line after recovering Michael Robinson’s early fumble. Shortly thereafter, it was third-and-goal at the 49ers’ 3-yard line. Peyton Manning wanted Anthony Gonzalez at the back of the end zone, but Smith got perfect inside position and knocked away the throw.
“It was me and Tarell Brown on a little kind of combo,” Smith said. “We had that one receiver in and out. So kind of tried to show like I was blitzing, see if I could throw him off a little bit. Kind of went in, then went up. It was an in route, so I’d take him. Put my hands up and hoping I could knock it down.”
He did, and it caught the attention of Manning. “I thought we had a good play there,” the perennial Pro Bowler said. “Safety made a pretty good defensive play stopping that.”
Coach Mike Singletary, who tempered his praise of Dixon after the game, was downright effusive in discussing Smith.
“Not only his performance in this game, but his training camp. He’s really stepped up,” Singletary said. “He’s doing some good things, and it’s really good to see at this point. He knew coming in to training camp, this had to be the year for him to make a move, and he’s responded very well.”
Singletary is right. Smith has really stood out at camp, where he gets reps with the second-team defense at safety, and with the No. 1s (subbing for Michael Lewis) when the 49ers’ go to a nickel subpackage. Because NFL teams run so many three-wide-receiver sets these days, Smith could see the field a lot in 2010.
He looks ready. It has been a gradual transition for Smith, who played cornerback during his senior year at Oklahoma and as a 2008 rookie with San Francisco. The 49ers moved him to safety last year, but he played sparingly on defense. Now he’s preparing to step into the “Mark Roman” role in the secondary.
“There’s a lot of competition going on in this camp,” Smith said. “Me being my third year, it’s time for me to step up and start making some plays and contribute to the team.”