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Alex Smith Displays Offensive Mastery

Posted Aug 22, 2012

First, he was deemed to be an “expert” by his head coach. A week later, Alex Smith was given more praise by the 49ers coaching staff when offensive coordinator Greg Roman said the eighth-year signal caller has been “savant-like” at times when grasping the playbook.

That’s high praise, certainly. But it’s also well-deserved.

Smith has yet to turn the ball over this preseason, leading the first-team offense on three drives that each lasted nine or more plays. He’s doing so on the heels of providing a “historically great job of protecting the football,” according to Roman.

Smith recorded five interceptions in 2011, his first year working under the coordinator’s guidance. This time around, the duo expects the team’s performances to be even greater as they’ve grown accustomed to working alongside one another.

Roman compared Smith’s development in his offense to a marriage.

“When you’re married the first couple months, the first six months or whatever, you’re kind of still getting to know where the toothpaste goes and whatnot,” Roman said. “And then after a while you get to know somebody and that’s kind of how Alex is with our offense.”

Considering Smith surpassed the 3,000-yard mark last year for the first time in his seven seasons with San Francisco, it’s safe to say Smith is getting a better feel for where everything goes.

Asked to discuss Smith’s strides in his second season working with the 2005 No. 1 overall pick, Roman simply said, “Everything.”

Top to bottom, Smith’s knowledge of the offense makes him proficient in getting the offense into the correct plays at all times.

“Now, he can recite things,” Roman said. “He can fix things, understands where people are. When we go back and look at our first early games last season, just getting through a straight progression was a work in progress relative to what it was late in the season, relative to what it is now.

“He’s getting through his reads quicker. He’s eliminating reads earlier and really just taking ownership of our offense. He understands all the different things that we do and he’s really, really, really intelligent. Bright football player. Really intelligent. He is super smart. Savant-like at times and has great ideas.”

Smith isn’t bashful when it comes to sharing his input. Last season, he’d spend late nights at the facility sharing his input on the weekly gameplans with Roman and quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst. He also spent time in the offseason reviewing all of last season’s film, including third-down cut-ups with the offensive staff and later, by himself.

In his second season working with likes of Roman, Chryst and even Harbaugh, a hands-on quarterback coach in his own right, Smith feels comfortable when it comes to speaking his mind.

“I’ve said this before for this coaching staff,” Smith began, “it’s so much about the best way to do things not necessarily cookie-cutter, our way. If someone has a good idea, let’s jump on it and go with it. It’s not just me, I think everybody. A lot of people offer up ideas and that’s really kind of the idea of the coaching staff, I think everybody’s involved.”

Some ideas get implemented, others get scrapped. But the important thing is the players’ comfort in voicing ideas.

Roman gave evidence of Smith’s playbook mastery, pointing out the quarterback’s ability to recognize play calls that can be, at times, 15 words long.

“If he sees it, he can just recite it,” Roman said of Smith. “He doesn’t need to look at anything to recite it. And then let’s just say the person typing that play in made a mistake. He’ll fix it right away without even blinking. I’ve yet to see that from anybody.”

Smith’s background in multiple offensive systems, believe it or not, helps.

But just because Smith’s mastering the team’s offensive schemes heading into year two under Roman’s watch doesn’t mean he’s looking to showcase everything right away in the preseason.

Sunday’s nationally televised matchup against the Denver Broncos might seem like a perfect time to target new vertical receiving threats like Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, but not if it means tipping the team’s hand to upcoming regular season opponents.

Smith said the team is “really just trying to show balance,” and that the goal is not give anybody “any tells or anything like that.”

“I feel like we are doing a decent job of it,” he added.

The 49ers have likely confused future opponents by utilizing multiple receivers all preseason long. According to Roman, the trend is likely to continue into the regular season.

“They’re all contributors and they’re all competing right now for a role,” Roman revealed of his talented receiving core. “How they compete, what they show they can do well, that will kind of carve out a role whether it be small, large. It’s definitely a very competitive situation. We’ve got some good guys there.”

Even with added talent, Smith, a heady player in his own right, will continue to take what the defense gives him.

“There’s no sense to just drop back and throw it up,” Smith cautioned. “Now Randy does provide some opportunities where if he’s one-on-one and you’re going to take some shots, just a guy who plays the ball that well in the air and that kind of ability, that’s what you want. You want to create problems. To a certain extent, you’re still going to go through your progressions and reads and take what the defense gives you.”

That mindset plays perfectly into Smith’s mastery of the system. Last year, he focused on relaying the proper play call. This time around, however, Smith knows the reason for the play call and its intent.

“You get better at just understanding all that with the play call,” Smith added. “The play call is just coming in, but you do a better job of understanding everything that comes with it and then getting to that faster, just operating quicker.”