Getting to know a new offensive coordinator is familiar territory for quarterback Alex Smith. After all, that's something he's dealt with every year of his NFL career. The quarterback is currently adjusting to his fourth with noted play caller Mike Martz taking over the 49ers offense this off-season.
Instead, the real unknown being thrown Smith's way this go-around is what his role will be in this new offense as head coach Mike Nolan has said the starting quarterback spot is up for grabs.
"It will be an open competition," said Nolan on set of the NFL Network last week. "It's no one's job to lose. It's both guys' job to take."
Even in his rookie year when he began the year as the backup to veteran Tim Rattay, Smith had the luxury of knowing that as the number one overall in the pick, the reigns to the offense would eventually be his. In week five of his rookie year, Smith earned that nod and when healthy, has been the starter ever since.
Now, he'll go head to head with veteran Shaun Hill who showed the most consistent play at quarterback for the 49ers last season, albeit in only two and a half games. Even though he might not be the front runner anymore, Smith said his approach to the competition will be the same.
"You know, it's different but at the same time it isn't," said Smith. "For me, I can control what I can control and that's doing the best I can everyday at everything I do, pushing myself to the limit and really working as hard as I can. That's the same thing I've really done since I've been here. My focus is that I can do what I can do and everything else is going to take care of itself. Competition is a part of sports. It's a part of football. It's something that I've dealt with and every football player has dealt with since they've been playing this game. It's kinds of inherent within the game. I don't think it's something to be scared of other than it's going to make us better."
Smith's ability to re-gain a stronghold on the position could be delayed somewhat as he continues his recovery from season-ending shoulder surgery. After six weeks in a sling, Smith said he's practically full-go in the weight room, but is still following a regimented schedule when it comes to throwing.
"At this point, I'm still in a toss and playing catch phase. I'm not throwing to wide receivers," said Smith who said he usually tops off the distance on his throws at 40 yards. "This is something where I'm really trying to work my arm back into throwing shape. The projected goal is to still have another month or so to get it to where it needs to be. I'm trying to take my time with it."
Smith hopes to be full go by the team's early May mini camp, but he could still be limited in live throwing as a precautionary method. By training camp, he said he'll be "absolutely" 100%.
His shoulder is not the only thing that required some mending this off-season. Smith said he's spent significant time talking with Coach Nolan and putting last year's communication problems to rest.
"He and I are both looking forward to putting last year behind us," said Smith. "I've talked with him several times and I think we're both excited about it. I know I definitely am. We're both better than that and I think we're looking forward to obviously erasing that and proving not only to the people in this building, but everywhere, that we're going to move on and we're going to do better than that and we expect better. I think we're both excited for this opportunity ahead of us."
And as for that fourth offensive coordinator, Smith welcomes the change and the opportunity to study under one of the league's best when it comes to developing quarterbacks.
"Just look at the track record Martz had with all those quarterbacks and the way they've played and the numbers they've put up and where they've taken their game," said Smith "I'm just excited for the chance to really continue trying to reach my potential. I feel like I haven't even been there yet since I've been in the NFL, playing at the level I know I can play (at).With Coach Martz's help and all the guys around here, I hope to get there."
Topping the list of new players that Smith referenced were future Hall of Fame wide receiver Isaac Bruce and former Arizona receiver Bryant Johnson.
"I'm excited for everyone, for the guys who are returning and the guys just coming in," said Smith of his supporting cast. "I think the new additions are going to make us better. It's more competition, like I said, and I think it's something that's going to help this team. You talk about a guy like Isaac Bruce coming in with that much experience, not only in the NFL, but also with Coach's Martz's system. I'm excited to have a guy like that in here, to pick his brain and get another outside perspective from a veteran guy that's really kind of been around."