SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Troy Smith has only started two games at quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, but if there's one quality he has that offensive coordinator Mike Johnson wants to see more of, it's this: his daring.
Don't think the 49ers like to see Smith to take chances on the field? You're wrong. They do. They just want to make sure he takes them at the right times and in the right circumstances.
"The one thing I want to do is encourage daring," Johnson said. "I want to encourage the stuff that he has inside and allow it to come out without stifling that."
So far, Smith has shown a gambler's willingness to take chances, unlike his predecessor, Alex Smith. In two games, he's averaging 11.7 yards per pass attempt, has a 116.6 quarterback rating and no interceptions.
His teammates appreciate the fact that Troy Smith will use his feet to keep plays alive and works hard to get them the ball. Last Sunday, in a 23-20 overtime victory over the St. Louis Rams, five receivers had more than 60 yards in receptions; eight completions were for 20 yards or more.
"One thing we've been talking about as receivers and tight ends is that with Troy, you don't know what's going to happen," said tight end Delanie Walker, who had four catches for 80 yards. "If it's a bad play, he's going to try to make something out of nothing. I've said it before, it's like being in your backyard playing football – everybody is running and trying to work and scramble to the side he's at because, like you saw in London, he threw a deep ball 45 yards and I caught it at the one. So with him, you just have to keep finishing because he's a playmaker."
The day after his team beat the Rams, coach Mike Singletary noted that he wanted to sit down with Smith and discuss several things he wanted the young quarterback to do in the future – "correctable things," he called them.
Translation: Don't take scary chances.
"The one thing coach Singletary was talking about," Johnson said, "was there was one ball in the fourth quarter where he was getting tackled and he threw it up down the middle of the field and the safety dropped the ball. He needs to make sure that when you're pushing the envelope, so to speak, and you're being aggressive, you don't take away from the big focus, which is to make sure we take care of the ball."
He's done that – no interceptions and no fumbles. And if there were any doubts about his ability to push the ball downfield, he's dispelled those.
When someone wondered this week why no one had taken note of arm strength, Smith, who earned his reputation at Ohio State as a quarterback who could run, smiled.
"Maybe it's a given," he said. "Maybe everybody already knows, and they don't have to talk about that. We definitely call plays to score points and get our playmakers involved, whether it's something short, long or intermediate. We're going to throw theball, and teams need to get ready for it."