Smith, Turner: What might have been

Alex Smith enjoyed a productive season under offensive coordinator Norv Turner in 2006. But Turner left the next year to become Chargers head coach. Thursday night, they'll be reunited.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Who knows what might have happened had Alex Smith and Norv Turner stayed together?

It's a question Smith has asked himself before, perhaps more than once. He and Turner had just one year together, 2006, but it produced Smith's best season as the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback.

Turner's stay as the Niners' offensive coordinator was short. The next season, he was hired as the San Diego Chargers head coach, cutting short a relationship with Smith that still ranks as his best in the NFL.

"Those first few years, yeah, for sure," Smith said. "No question. I felly felt like the trajectory could have been a little different if maybe that didn't happen."

Smith has struggled to regain that level of success ever since. It's somewhat interesting that when he sees Turner on Thursday night before the 49ers-Chargers game in San Diego, he'll be coming off arguably the best game of his career.

"I thought he was awfully sharp," Turner said during a conference call with Bay Area media on Tuesday. "He obviously looked relaxed and very comfortable."

Smith, making his first start in six weeks, had a career-high 130.5 passer rating in the 49ers' 40-21 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. He was 17 of 27 passing and threw three first-half touchdowns, the first time a Niners QB has done that since Jeff Garcia in 2002.

Although coach Mike Singletary called the performance "decent," offensive coordinator Mike Johnson was more effusive, saying, "He was extremely disciplined, focused, and he made great decisions with the ball. That's something that we hopefully can get from him this week and every week going forward."

It was something the 49ers had hoped to see from Smith after 2006, his second year in the league, when he threw for almost 2,900 yards and 16 TDs. But his struggles have continued into this season, when he was injured and then lost his job to Troy Smith, who led the team to back-to-back wins.

Smith, 26, has been slowed by injuries and by changes in coaches and offensive coordinators.

"The thing you're looking for as a quarterback is consistency around you, and obviously there's been a lot of change for Alex, so it's not even fair to evaluate him on a game-to-game performance," Turner said. "What you look for, and what I look for, is guys who can go out and make plays. Certainly, the plays he made the other day, the way he operated, he continues to show that he's capable. Obviously, the next step is doing it on a weekly basis."

Smith said he and Turner still talk, but he admits it was a personal loss when Turner left.

"I learned a lot of football from him," he said. "I was excited about the next year. … But I understood. It was an opportunity (for Turner) to get a head-coaching gig. It wasn't devastating, but obviously, looking back, it was frustrating nonetheless."

PRACTICE UPDATE: Linebackers Patrick Willis (hand) and NaVorro Bowman (hamstring) and running back Brian Westbrook did not practice Tuesday. Westbrook usually gets the day off to preserve him for game days. Held to limited practice were LB Takeo Spikes (hand), G Mike Iupati (shoulder), TE Nate Byham (shoulder) and RB DeShawn Wynn (ankle).

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