Young to Alex: the pressure is on

Caught Steve Young on KNBR’s “The Razor and Mister T” on the drive to Candlestick Park tonight. After the requisite reminiscences, the Hall of Fame quarterback got to the important stuff: Alex Smith. And Young managed to not only praise Smith, but zing another NFC West quarterback who entered the league as a high first-round pick.

“I think Alex is a competent quarterback,” Young said. “I think Alex understands the game, and I’m telling you there’s a reaction – similar to Matt Leinart. He can’t get out of third gear. He throws the nice ball, he can drop back. But when things get fast – fast, fast – you can tell, he just can’t quite keep up. You really can’t win jobs when you can’t keep up.”

Ouch.

For most of his first four NFL seasons, Smith couldn’t keep up. He showed some signs of catching on last year, and is clearly embarking on a make-or-break season. Young no doubt has some empathy. He spent two dismal years with Tampa Bay – a 3-16 record, 11 touchdowns, 21 interceptions, 68 sacks – before getting rescued by Bill Walsh’s 49ers. He then sat behind Joe Montana for most of the next four seasons.

The point is that it took Young some time to prove he wasn’t terrible. Now is Smith’s time. And while generally supportive of Smith, Young didn’t soften the expectations.

“We can now make really hard judgments about Alex and the team and his play – this season,” Young said. “And that’s the truth. I would tell Alex: The pressure is on. You have everything in front of you, you’ve got all the opportunities you’ve ever wanted to be a professional quarterback today. So all the things you’ve been through, forget it.”