Somehow I didn’t know about the conference call with Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden yesterday.
Thanks to Cam Inman, here’s what they said.
Q: Ron, you’ve talked on previous broadcasts, even a Monday Night broadcast, about Alex Smith’s mechanical problems early in his career. What kind of improvements has he made early this year and how do you explain his emergence?
JAWORSKI: “Well, I’ve once again studied and am studying right now in my office, and he really hasn’t made a whole lot of improvement in his mechanics. You may remember a few years ago, I broke down his locked left leg, and I still think that knee locked does cause him some problems with his accuracy. But it’s something that he’s comfortable with, it’s unique to his passes. I’ve kind of let it go at that. It’s not something that I like to see. I think it’s a detriment to quarterbacks when they don’t have that flexed knee and a cushion.
“But Alex has played well, and I think more importantly, the fact that he understands what his role is right now, he is the quarterback, he understands this system right now. He’s not asked to drop back 40 times and win the game for the 49ers. You know, they’re winning it with outstanding defense, they’re coming off the ball and road grading people. Frank Gore is having a rock-solid year, and the other components are helping out, as well. You’ve got Kendall Hunter certainly is making a contribution. They’re a two-tight-end-oriented offense. They want to play smashmouth football, and they will take their shots, and I think this is where Alex has been very good. They run the football, they’ll go to the play action game, and he’ll take his shots, and I think it’s a good fit for where he is in his career right now, this style of offense. I applaud the way he’s playing right now. He’s very careful with the football and not making a whole lot of mistakes. I’d like to see the ball come out a little bit quicker. I think there are times he’s taking sacks because he’s not releasing the football, but other than that, I applaud the way he’s playing.”
Q: Jon, Ron talked a little bit about Alex Smith. Can you talk about how you see a different guy, or do you see a different guy from the man that you covered second game of last season?
GRUDEN: “I’ve always thought Alex was a talented guy. That’s why he was a No. 1 pick in the draft. I think he’s in a system right now that he understands, that suits him. Certainly Coach Harbaugh’s hands-on approach I’m sure has helped him. It looks like he’s playing with confidence. He’s playing with some generalship. He’s taking care of the ball.
“He understands he’s going to get some opportunities throughout the game with the defense that they have. I really just see a guy that’s running the show. He’s not taking a lot of risks. He doesn’t feel like he has to do it all on his own, and (Michael) Crabtree has emerged. I’m really impressed with (Kyle) Williams, this No. 10, he’s making plays, and Ted Ginn has really found a niche in this offense. They have a lot of speed. Vernon Davis can make plays, and they can hand the ball off to Gore, and if they have to punt it, so what. They’ll get another opportunity. I really see a mature quarterback and I’m happy for Alex Smith. After all he’s been through, it’s good to see him winning and having some fun for a change.”
Q: I’ve heard of a lot of speculation, but in 2005 had he fallen to No. 5 would the Buccaneers have taken him?
GRUDEN: “We never took a quarterback in the first round. I only like old guys. I like 38-year-old guys; I don’t like young, talented quarterbacks. I proved that my whole career, so probably not.”
Q: I just wanted to address a comment that Ron had made earlier about Alex Smith’s release, and I was wondering if you could kind of expand on that, and Jon, are there throws that he’s unable to make because the release is a little slow?
JAWORSKI: “No, I think he can make every throw. I don’t think that’s the problem at all. There’s no question you’re not going to put him up there with a gun style of arm where he’s going to rifle these balls into tight windows. But Alex, because he’s experienced now, he’s improved his anticipation, his understanding of this offense, he knows the scheme, he knows what’s expected, and he knows his own limitations, and I think that’s always a great asset for a quarterback, to know what you can’t do rather than what you can do. He’s not making those risky throws. He’s throwing the football away. And he’s even taking a sack when a play isn’t there.
“I don’t mean that in a negative way, I mean that in a positive way. Rather than try to make a ridiculous play and get it picked off, which in the past he would do, I think he’s playing solid football right now, and I think Jim Harbaugh has a lot to do with that. I’m a firm believer that quarterbacks perform better when your head coach is an offensive-minded guy. He hasn’t had much of that opportunity with the history of coaches that he’s played under, and I think an offensive-minded head coach, particularly a guy like Jim that understands the quarterback position, is a tremendous asset for Alex Smith.
“He knows how to coach him, he knows how to teach him, and I think it can only get better as time goes on. So it really is a positive having Jim as a head coach also understanding the quarterback position.”
GRUDEN: “I think Alex Smith has plenty of arm. I don’t think Mike McCarthy drafted him or was a big part of drafting him over Aaron Rodgers if he had any question about his ability to throw the ball at Utah. I think the biggest question is can San Francisco protect him. I think we made the point the other night in Seattle that the quarterbacks in the NFC West statistically and on film have been under siege. He’s been sacked one out of just about 11 drop-back passes. He still is under to me a lot of duress. He’s had to create — the big question to me is can they keep him in rhythm and protect him and give him an opportunity to stride through throws and do what he can do physically. That’s the big objective to me for the 49ers, particularly against the Steelers.”