Well, yes, more time is needed to form position on Alex Smith

Question: Does anyone here need more time or evidence to form a position on Alex Smith? (BTP)

Answer: Well, as a matter of fact . . .


Smith has gotten better every season he has played – played – in the NFL. Statistically, he ranked 19th in the NFL in completion percentage and passer rating. He was 14th in touchdown percentage and 23rd in interception percentage. He was 24th in average gain per pass attempt.


Do people in Atlanta need more time to form a position on Matt Ryan? I doubt it. Ryan has 30 career starts. Smith has 40. Ryan is just one year younger. Statistically, Smith had the better season (though it was very close).


Do people in New York need more time to form a position on Matt  Mark Sanchez? Probably not. Sanchez ranked near the bottom of the NFL in every statistical category, except average yards per pass attempt (he ranked 18th). Hey, I like Sanchez and think he has a chance to be a good player. But when people talk about him possessing “it,” are they talking about the league’s best run game and the No. 1-ranked defense?


How much better can Smith get? I don’t know, but I see no reason to believe he will be less productive in 2010 than he was when he split snaps in the offseason with Shaun Hill and then worked his way onto the field in the 49ers’ sixth game of the regular season. That question will go a long way toward determining whether the 49ers can make a move in the NFC next season.


When I look at how he played in 2009, I see one thing that leads me to believe he can be a good quarterback: He made a handful of very nice and important throws while hanging in there, knowing he was about to absorb big hits. That is something that can’t be taught, and it speaks to his toughness.


On the down side, there were some passes in which he either missed open receivers (a pass intended for Jason Hill against the Seahawks that sailed high and out of bounds comes to mind) or he waited too long to make some throws at the boundary.


The 49ers sack numbers decreased with Smith at quarterback. But I think those numbers can go down even further with Smith spending more time in this offense and gaining a better understanding of the protections and creating more chemistry with his wideouts, particularly Michael Crabtree.


It seems the major flaw in Smith’s game is his reluctance to “throw a receiver open,” as Steve Young always described it. Smith is often too cautious. He seemingly wants to see a receiver open before he throws it, and a lot of times it’s too late because the defender was afforded the time to recover.


Smith must show more trust in his pre-snap read, the route his receiver is running and gauging the body positioning of the defender to make throws to spots where his receiver can go get it.


On the day I spent at NFL Films outside of Philadelphia with Greg Cosell late in the season, we watched film of Peyton Manning from the previous night when the Colts played the Jaguars.


There were a handful of plays in that game in which Cosell would stop the film just as Manning was throwing the pass. When you looked over the receivers in the route, you could not find anyone open. But – through years of experience in the offense and knowing the opposition’s defense – Manning would make a pass that you’d figure he had no reason to throw. Each of those times, he put the ball in a spot that allowed the receiver to go make the catch. It’s a matter of timing, exhaustive study, trust and accuracy.


That’s where Smith can make the biggest improvement in 2010.


There are folks on this blog who comment often and have already formed an opinion that a) Smith is a bust; or b) Smith is bound for the Hall of Fame. Personally, my inclination is to believe that both sides are overstating their cases. He’s probably somewhere in between.


Of course, he’ll always be held to a higher standard because he was chosen with the No. 1 overall pick — and that’s fair. But, yes, I do need a little more evidence to form that opinion on whether he’s the longterm solution for the 49ers.


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Friday is a big day for the 49ers. That’s the day Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner is expected to make an announcement of his future. And it sure sounds as if he’s ready to walk away.


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Word from the Senior Bowl is that retired 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich is among the individuals doing some networking in hopes of landing a job as an NFL assistant coach.


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Ray Brown, whom a source says the 49ers have hired as assistant offensive line coach, is the subject of one of my all-time favorite quotes. Legendary 49ers line coach Bobb McKittrick once described Brown’s toughness and class in this way:


“If I were to walk down a dark alley in a bad part of town, I’d want Ray Brown with me. And if I were to have a nice dinner at a fine restaurant, I’d want Ray Brown with me.”


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