Former 49ers Quarterback Alex Smith on Brock Purdy, “He’s got it.”

Alex Smith is a fan of 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and believes in what the team has done at the quarterback position.

Smith has worked the last couple years as an analyst for ESPN. The former 49ers quarterback was in Lake Tahoe over the weekend to play in the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament. During a break in the action, he joined Matt Maiocco for the 49ers Talk podcast.

“Kyle Shanahan is a guy that I never got to play for,” shared Smith. “But I’ve played with so many guys who got to play for him. So many teammates that I’ve picked their brains and other coaches who have been with him.

“I’m such a fan of his. Not only from an X’s and O’s perspective, but also the culture he brings and sets. I love what he’s done, he and John Lynch, what they’ve built. I think it’s so sustainable the way they’ve built it.”

When asked how he would have done in a Kyle Shanahan system, Smith brought up a common refrain which has been used as a negative towards Jimmy Garoppolo in the past and again this offseason for Brock Purdy.

“I love to think about it sometimes,” said Smith. “It’s one of the best quarterback systems in the league.

“You’re just the point guard. The way it’s built and put together with the run game, the play action pass, the misdirection’s, and screens. You never feel like you have to do too much. Certainly, there are a few plays a game that you’re going to be expected to make. But there’s also a lot of freebies, a lot of gimmies out there for you.

“And then you look out there right now, they have playmakers at every position who do a lot with the ball in their hands. That’s such a nice place to be as a quarterback. Knowing you don’t have to force the ball anywhere. Just go out there and run the system, ‘where’s the defense telling me to throw it,’ throw it on time and let the offense work for you”

Throughout his career Smith went through some interesting situations with other quarterbacks. These included splitting reps during games with Colin Kaepernick early in the 2012 season with the 49ers and later mentoring Patrick Mahomes with the Chiefs.

That experience gives him a unique perspective on the dynamics of San Francisco’s current quarterback room consisting of two players taken third overall, Trey Lance and Sam Darnold, along with one who played like he should have been taken that high, Brock Purdy.

“I think it stars with the guy at the top, Kyle (Shanahan)”, said Smith. “We’ve seen him do it before I think his communication, his transparency, everyone knows what’s going on.

“I’ve been a part of some great quarterback rooms. I get too much credit often times for mentoring a young kid named Patrick Mahomes. It’s no different. With Andy (Reid) we all knew the deal and were on the same page, and there weas a mutual respect between everybody. It can work.”

San Francisco used three first round picks to move up in the draft to select Trey Lance. Despite a rough start to his time in San Francisco, Smith still believes in the potential the team saw in the quarterback when they took him third overall in 2021.

“I still love Trey’s future,” Smith said. “I think he’s incredibly talented. I think he’s a great kid that works really hard. He was so young; he was 20 years old when he got drafted. His college experience was so unique. He’s battled some injuries.

“So for him, he needs to block out the noise, block out the distractions, and continue to go to work, and just become the player he wants to be, and work towards that. And that’s hard. That’s not easy to do, especially as a young kid.”

Smith also addressed the criticism Kyle Shanahan has faced regarding the use of Lance in the running game. During his time at North Dakota State, Lance was asked to run the ball 192 times, including 98 over his final six games for the Bison.

“I think it’s all dependent upon who’s in,” said Smith. “If Brock is under center I’m going to run the plays that put Brock (Purdy) in the best position to succeed. If Trey’s under center I’m going to put Trey in the best chance to succeed.

“Certainly, Trey’s athleticism and ability to run the football should be on your play sheet. Third and three, let’s use him or fake it. I know I would want that.

“As the coach and play caller that’s your job. To put the 11 guys out there in the best possible situation. I do think that’s the beauty of Kyle. This isn’t just a system. He can adapt and change depending on his players talents.”

While Lance was the player with the traits necessary to go high in the draft, Brock Purdy fell to the last pick in the draft. Despite this, Purdy executed the 49ers offense at a high level when called upon following injuries to Lance and veteran Jimmy Garoppolo.

Smith was asked to put Purdy’s rookie season into perspective and how he has set himself up for the future.

“We love to get caught up in the Combine, and kind of the underwear Olympics, and all the measurables like height, weight, speed, hand size, arm strength, how far can you throw it, and how many miles per hour does he throw it and all that stuff,” said Smith. “In the end, quarterbacking, certainly, there’s a level of accuracy. You’ve got to be able to throw on time and hit your targets. But it’s really processing. It’s really between your ears. You’ve got to be able to process a lot, fast, and there’s not a great way to quantify that yet.

“In our interview process, and the Combine, and all the weird tests you take, they haven’t really found a great way to quantify that. And I think Brock showed he’s got it right between the ears. It’s not too big for him. This is a guy I know didn’t get many reps in training camp. He finally got back up to number two, so he’s running scout team. You’re still not getting many reps. And then to step in and just operate the way he did, it wasn’t too big. You could see him dial in.

“And I know, in that system, there’s a lot on the quarterback’s plate, from a processing standpoint, and I think he showed enough that, absolutely, he’s got it. And again, height, 40, arm strength, that stuff really is secondary at the NFL level, and I think he’s got the things that you’re looking for to win sustainably. Again, accuracy, timing, and processing”

This article has 42 Comments

  1. I watched that interview and enjoyed seeing Alex in a good place. He certainly struggled early with some terrible coaches but eventually got to show what he could do.
    I think Alex is spot on evaluating Purdy and quarterbacks in general. Too many people get caught up on the physical traits and ignore the between the ears stuff which is the most important part. Hopefully our other QBs have that as well. I believe Trey has that but not sure about the others.
    Actually the between the ears part is important for all athletes, maybe just not to the degree it is for QBs or point guards. Take Steph Curry for example. Is he the greatest shooter because of extreme athleticism? I’d say not. In addition he is very bright and a very hard worker.

  2. I have great respect for AS. How he led the team during the lockout before the 2011 season was a big part of their success that year. His performance in the playoff game Vs. the Saints is one of my top 10 49ers games. Jack do you have any idea what the team will be doing the next week? Will you be there?

    1. Coach,

      Rookies report today. They will be working on conditioning. Veterans will report next Tuesday. First practice will come on Wednesday which will be the first media availability of the new season.

  3. I can’t wait for the dust to settle during training camp. Many interesting battles will be taking place.
    Who will be the QB2 backing up Purdy?
    Will a young LB emerge and surprise?
    Will a young rookie CB make the 53R.
    Can Elijah Mitchell stay healthy to become the established RB2?
    Will the Oline be better after McGlinchey?
    How much of a positive difference will Moody make?
    Ahhh, football is here!

    1. AES, all very good questions. I’ll answer the ones I have a feeling about:

      -No surprise to you, I think Darnold will start and be Purdy’s primary backup when Brock’s ready to return.
      -At LB, I have no feel for this.
      -I think Thomas will be released or traded and replaced by Luter.
      -Hate to say this but Mitchell imo won’t be able to stay healthy. He’ll start as qb2 but soon get injured. Just a guess based on what’s happened the last two seasons. I’m looking forward (hoping?) to seeing Mason play a whole lot more.
      -The oline will be better because of Banks, Brendel and Burford having had more reps and Burford being stronger, and McKivitz having been underrated.
      -Now the Moody thing is very interesting. Assuming he’s as accurate as the hype, I think we’ll kick more over 50-yard field goals. Does this mean we’ll kick more field goals in total? I think we’ll score more TDs (more Brock, better oline, emergence of Gray), so I would say no.

      To quote Harbaugh, “Who’s got it better than us?”

      1. George,
        I agree with everything you added except for Darnold at QB2. Not saying that it can’t happen, but unless Lance is traded, I have them both going into TC on an even level.
        But, this is definitely a competition that I’m looking forward to.

        I really like Mason, but after seeing Mitchell almost run for 100 yrds in the playoffs against the C’boys, while relieving CMC, I couldn’t help but to be excited at what a healthy Mitchell can do. But health is Eli’s biggest hurdle, for sure.
        It’s going to fun to see how it all shakes out!

        Coach, did I miss your count down today?

        1. Certainly hope I’m wrong about Mitchell. Perhaps he’s done work this offseason to make his body more resistant to injury, if there is work like that you can do. Gain good weight? That might slow him down a bit but possibly extend his career. Imagine having CMC, Mitchell and Mason all healthy for the whole season.

          1. Having all three of these guys healthy will strike fear against teams. When all is said and done, it could be Mason leading the RB group because CMC has also had injury issues in his career.
            But, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the 49ers can have a relatively injury free season. I want to see our best players available for the playoffs and the Superbowl.

            1. You’re right of course. Would be a definite loss. If that happens, there’s Deebo. Also from the little we gleaned from the OTAs, they appear to want to be able to involve Mason as a receiver. Mitchell, as I recall, didn’t participate, but he’s shown he can be successful catching and running with the ball. In fact, using him in the slot or at y receiver might be the smart way to go with him, then alternating with Mason at rb in the playoffs.

              1. If CMC goes down it could affect the qb play, does not matter who of the 4 qbs we have

        2. AES,
          Yes it was the last response in Jack’s last post but I will repeat it just for you.
          1 day to go!!!!!!!

  4. Geo,
    I think Mitchell’s injuries are a result of bad luck and an upright running style. At this point in his career I don’t think he can change either.

    1. Coach,
      I was going to mention Mitchell’s upright running style, but forgot to.
      But, you are correct about this.

      Also, Shanahan’s run game calls for a lot of runs between the guards and tackles. I have seen the RBs get cut down from the side near the line scrimmage when the gaps close down. Getting hit from the side as opposed to being tackled from someone in front, can contribute to leg injuries as well.

  5. What does AS know? Once a loser, always a loser! Of course the worst QB in franchise history would like Shanahan and Purdy. That is all I need to hear, it proves I am 100% right about them both! My boyfriend ninermd saw this article and literally laughed out loud. Alex Smith judging other QB’s? What a joke!

  6. Here is the rankings of the best 49ers QB’s over the last 40 years…..

    1. Joe
    2. Kaepernick
    3. Garcia
    4. Young
    5. Lance
    6. Bono
    7. Mullens
    8. Troy Smith
    9. Hill
    10. Josh Johnson
    11. Grbac
    12. McCoy
    13. Hoyer
    14. Beathard
    15. Carr
    16. Rattay
    17. Purdy
    18. Gabbert
    19. O’Sullivan
    20. Dorsey
    21. Jimmy G
    22. A Smith

    AS and JG don’t even make the top 20! And after the top 5 you have a bunch of career backups. What does that tell you about Alex’s worthless opinion?

  7. Mike Nolan was a terrible coach. I always felt like he was a fraud. The job was too big for him so he just went with the fake it til you make it approach but he never made it. The 49ers improved during the Nolan years because Scot McCloughan was good at draft management. And the way Nolan handled Smith in the first few years was almost criminal. Questioning his injury status and then making Smith play in offenses coached by Mike McCarthy, Norv Turner, Jim Hostler and then Mike Martz. 4 different offenses in 4 years. Those years formed my opinion that having the #1 draft pick when you need a QB almost requires that the head coach is an offensive coach. Absolute terrible hire by Jed.

    1. Pat, what about him drafting Smith over Rodgers? I thought Nolan was a holier than thou guy, and I couldn’t stand him. He liked the smell of the locker room, though.

      1. Yeah, that was a huge mistake. My recollection is Nolan didn’t like Rodgers because he thought he was too arrogant. Then I think Smith was sort of a consensus #1 at the time. I don’t think anyone was thinking of Rodgers for the #1 pick. To a certain degree, I think having the #1 pick is a bit of a curse. Player personnel people are tied to consensus when you have the #1 pick more so than any other pick. If you pass on the consensus to pick someone you like more but the consensus guy turns out to be better then that is quite definitely a career limiting decision. If you pick the consensus but the other guy turns out to be better then you have the excuse that everyone missed so you can’t really be held accountable. Not saying thats right or wrong but it’s human nature to look for the safer pick when your career is on the line.

        1. Pat,
          I think teams were scared of Tedford coached QBs. He had 3 or 4 highly ranked QBs who were big time failures in the NFL. I think they rightly believed it might take 2 or 3 years to correct his mechanics,

          1. I think you’re right. Not sure if Kyle Boller crossed over to Tedford at Cal but that couldn’t have helped Aaron Rodgers either way.

        1. Which is exactly my point. In hindsight, Picking Smith over Rodgers was an obvious mistake. But at the time Smith was a safe pick because a bunch of teams agreed that Smith was better than Rodgers. Having the #1 pick forces GMs to tie themselves to safe/consensus picks even if they actually like some other player better.

  8. So according to Jack this first week will be used for conditioning. The 49ers have never (in my memory) taken a full week for conditioning the rookies. I wonder why they are doing it this year? I think it could be one of three reasons.
    #1 KS is trying to get off to a better start, by using this first week for conditioning he can concentrate more time the 2nd week on prep.
    #2 QB competition less conditioning next weeks leads to more reps for the QBs.
    #3 next years cap problems mean this and next years rookie classes are the most important rookie classes of the last 10-20 years. Watch for the 9ers to stockpile picks for the 24 draft like they have never done before. Jimmy Gs health will help make an impact on next years draft.

  9. Coach
    This seems like a new policy for the 49ers. So, the rookies receive a full week for conditioning, but will this apply for the vets (week of conditioning) when they come in next week?

    If the vets get their own week for conditioning, hitting/contact may not begin until week three of training camp.

    Hopefully, Jack can give us some answers on this.

    1. AES,
      I am also curious exactly which players are reporting? Drafted rookies ,UDFAs, PS players who haven’t ever been on the 53? Hopefully Jack can get us a list of who reported today.

    1. What kind of “conditioning” is involved when a player goes to the pup on the first day?
      Luter was receiving some positive reviews in OTA/MC, and seemed to have a good chance to make the 53R. Not a good start for the kid.
      Any info on the type of injury he sustained?

  10. AES,
    David Lombardi broke the story, he had no more info. He said to be placed on the PUP the injury hah to happen during the mini camp or since then and before camp. He also said Purdy may start camp on PUP.

    1. Thanks, Coach.
      That would make sense. Getting hurt today would definitely be unusual.

    2. “It’s not the best start for him at training camp, but 49ers rookie cornerback Darrell Luter Jr. is heading to the PUP list with an undisclosed injury.”

      I picked this up from another 49ers news source. Looks like the FO is not ready to disclose any information on the injury at this point. They might be more forthcoming in a few days (just a guess, on my part).

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