Smith talks leadership: Can he pass Singletary’s eye test?

Which QB would you like to see open the season as the starter? Vote here.

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Before we get to my conversation with Alex Smith, I wanted to address an issue. In recent weeks, I’ve received emails stating that I am . . . a Shaun Hill basher, a Shaun Hill supporter, an Alex Smith “hater” and an Alex Smith apologist.

Please, allow me clear up all this.


I genuinely like both men. Hill and Smith are either two really likeable, down-to-earth guys or they have me – and just about everybody else with whom they come in contact — completely fooled.


At the same time, I think there are legitimate football questions about both of them. I don’t believe I have ever written that Alex Smith is going to be a great player or that he’s never going to amount to anything as an NFL player. I don’t ever remember making such bold statements about Shaun Hill, either.


But I have stated recently that I believe Hill would be the starter to open the regular season. I’ve also stated that it might be the best thing for Smith to begin the season on the sideline. From the practices I’ve seen over the past four days, Smith has looked better than Hill. But I still don’t believe Smith should be a slam dunk to start from Day 1.


So that brings me to my line of questioning today with Alex Smith.


Coach Mike Singletary seems to have a great deal of confidence in his ability to look somebody in the eye and form an opinion about what’s going on in there. I know he likes what he sees from Hill. (After all, Hill convinced Singletary that he should not be benched in that late-season game against the Rams after Singletary had already informed Hill of his decision.)


Even though Smith might look better on the practice field, Singletary’s decision might ultimately come down to how Smith looks in the huddle and how he carries himself throughout the day when he’s with his teammates. And, perhaps most important of all, what kind of look Singletary sees when he peers into Smith’s eyes.


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Q: Do you feel like you have to show stuff in addition to the on-the-field performance, such as leadership and command of the huddle?

Smith: “I understand what you’re saying and, yeah, a little bit. But I’m going to let my actions speak for itself. I’m not going to be somebody I’m not. I’ve been with these guys for going on my fifth year. I’m not going to shine it on. I’m going to press it. I’m going to bust my ass. And I’m going to be accountable. I haven’t been accountable for two years. I haven’t been on the field. I’ve been sitting there in the training room. They’re not depending on me, and I’m not depending on them. So, yes, I feel like I have to earn that back. I have to be accountable. I have to let them know that I’m going to be there and do that every day. It’s every day. It’s not one day I’m ‘rah-rah-rah.’ It’s me being consistent and accountable, and if I make mistakes I have to get back on the horse. And you can’t make the same mistakes twice. You have to be getting better.”


Q: I don’t know if you’d take offense to this observation, but it seems like Shaun exudes leadership and he’s a take-charge guy. I don’t see that necessarily from you. Your personality is different . . .

Smith: “Yes.”


Q: Do you think that’s a wrong perception, that Shaun’s strengths seem to be the huddle and managing the game, and your strengths seem to be the physical?

Smith: “I see what you’re saying. From Day 1, since I was really little, the quarterback’s role is, there’s a time and a place for things. There’s a way to go about things when guys make mistakes or do things. For me, it’s different. Shaun is different than me. We’re different than guys who have been here in the past. We do things differently. I don’t think there’s one way of doing things.”


Q: The perception is Shaun has the intangibles that maybe you are still trying to acquire. Do you agree with that?

Smith: “I’d say, from my perspective, Shaun and I are probably closer leadership styles than quarterbacks who have been here in the past. Trent (Dilfer) was a lot different than both of us. He was more of a vocal guy. I’ve been around quarterbacks who have been like that. For me, right now we’re learning an offense and doing different things. Until I completely take care of what’s on my plate, I can’t necessarily go out there and jump down people’s throats. I can pull them off to the side and talk about stuff and make sure we get it right. He’s had more experience the last two years. For me, I want to be here every day and be accountable. When the season rolls around, things change a little bit.”


Q: What does “being a leader” mean to you?

Smith: “I think leadership is respect, and I don’t think anybody respects false leadership. I think you have to earn respect. You have to earn your teammates’ respect. Just because you play quarterback doesn’t mean they’re going to respect you. Because you’re the guy who’s supposed to take charge and you have the ball in your hand every play, that doesn’t mean they have to respect you. I think guys respect you going about your job the right way – work ethic, attitude toward the game and your commitment level. Those are the things guys look at and see and respect. I think that’s how leadership is formed.”


Q: Do you feel like you had that respect in ’06?

Smith: “No question. Absolutely. I think for the guys who are still here, I still have it. I think you can talk to those guys I’ve played with in this locker room, and I still have it. But I don’t feel like I’ve been accountable for two years. Injuries are injuries, but I haven’t been accountable. And I’m excited to be that again.”


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