SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Alex Smith is no Michael Vick, but he's a capable runner. After gaining 28 yards on four carries Monday night against the New Orleans Saints – and twice running for first downs on a critical game-tying fourth-quarter drive – you'd think he'd have a directive to use his feet more when he gets a chance.
Not entirely so.
"Obviously, I don't get excited about Alex running with the ball," San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary said about his quarterback. "That's why we have Frank Gore. If he can take off and get some positive yards without getting banged up, then I'm all for it. But he has to make great decisions."
Smith has always been considered a good athlete, and even though running is not on his resume, he's done it well enough to make it a dangerous option when he gets outside the pocket. In his first two seasons, he ran for more than 100 yards but considers it a last resort.
"Definitely, when the opportunity presents itself to run, I would like to run," he said. "But using your legs could be escaping pressure to throw a ball, it could be escaping pressure to get out and keep your eyes downfield and complete a pass just as much as get the yardage with your legs. All those things come into it.
"I think if I were ever to roll out and saw an opportunity to run, I'd take it. But sometimes it's not always there."
Smith had two big chances against the Saints in the last two minutes, running 12 yards to the Niners' 46-yard line on the first play of the series, then picking up 12 more to the Saints' 9 and keeping his feet inbound long enough to pick up the first.
Two plays later, Gore ran seven yard for a touchdown, and Smith's pass to Vernon Davis gave the 49ers a two-point conversion to tie the game 22-22. Singletary said later it was Smith's best game as a 49er.
"Statistically you'd say no, just off the numbers, but statistics aren't everything," Smith said. "I felt good out there. It felt similar to how I felt the first half in Seattle when were in the same type of deal, a balanced attack and we were going. I felt comfortable both weeks, but I don't know."
No matter how he felt, Smith understands he can help the team occasionally by using his legs. Just don't look for him to take off at first opportunity.
"I don't think it's something you can consciously do," he said. "It's something that happens instinctively. You drop back in the pocket, and all of a sudden if there's pressure or a lane open, you take off and go. That's not something you can do pre-snap or decide going into the game, ‘Hey, I'm going to run a lot in this game.' If you do that you'll get yourself into trouble."