'Camp Alex' triumph guarantees Smith nothing

Now we know Alex Smith is a heck of a coordinator. Round up a bunch of teammates from around the country, organize workout sessions and write play scripts? Alex is your guy. Coach on the field and football teacher in the classroom? Smith has proven this past month he's all of that. But what Smith didn't do during two workout sessions is show anybody whether or not he's really a better quarterback.

Sure, Smith was quite the leader during the two four-day sessions of "Camp Alex" that finished with Camp II on Friday. He's to be commended for that. Smith has gradually shown leadership qualities in recent years as he attempted to establish himself as the 49ers' quarterback. But he moved to the next level of leadership this past month while operating as general in charge at San Jose State.

Smith needed that. And everybody knows the 49ers need it.

And, sure, Smith looked pretty good on the field, adeptly running plays, standing tall, moving well and making all the throws, just like he does about this time every year. He's a veteran of six NFL seasons. He should look good by now doing those things in shorts.

But Smith delivered a rather cryptic message within his words during his wrap-up chat with the media, the only time he spoke during the past week.

"The real football starts in training camp," Smith said.

What the 49ers have been doing at Spartan Stadium on the SJS campus this past month doesn't even loosely qualify as real football, NFL style. It was a bunch of guys studying plays, learning formations, running routes and playing pass-and-catch against ghost defenders. If you think this puts the 49ers ahead in an offseason of lockout uncertainty, consider that some other teams were just a dozen-or-so bodies short of having full-squad workouts organized by players in other NFL posts around the country.

The point is, despite a glowing performance putting this all together, Smith really is no closer to turning around his fate as quarterback of the 49ers, or becoming the quarterback that can turn around the 49ers.

He's guaranteed nothing with the 49ers except a job when the lockout ends. Signing on the dotted line of a new, short-term contract with the team will be a formality when Smith can officially do so, and he'll enter training camp as the presumptive leading candidate to win the starting job, primarily because of the competition he faces – a veteran nobody believes in and a rookie who has yet to take a NFL snap.

Then again, the 49ers could have another quarterback everybody will be talking about on their roster between now and the time training camp actually begins.

While Smith has played the good soldier running things like a composed player/CEO, he's still not officially anybody's first choice, certainly not among the legion of fans who were ready to see him leave the franchise after last year's 6-10 season, a group Smith has acknowledged he needs to win back as part of his quest to retain the starting position moving forward.

New 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh knows – certainly better than the previous 49ers coaching regime – that football is a quarterback-driven sport and the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. Harbaugh enthusiastically wants Smith back because that's the best option Harbaugh has right now. But during his cram session with Smith during the brief period the lockout was lifted in April, Harbaugh and his coaches didn't attempt to veil the truth.

When asked Friday if he would expect the 49ers not to sign another quarterback at this point, Smith responded, "They were very up-front about the draft and what was going on and what their plan of attack was. And from that… I've always known every team's going to try to bring the best three quarterbacks into camp, three or four."

If there's a fourth legitimate QB in 49ers camp this summer, it will be a veteran there to seriously compete for the starting role, and surely the 49ers brain trust is currently entertaining the idea of finding that guy and pursuing him in free agency.

"The great thing," Smith said, "is I've been able to get into the playbook and get a little jump-start, you know."

The problem is, everybody always seems to catch up with Smith once the real games begin. To stay ahead Smith first has to get ahead, and nobody can claim he's there yet because of an All-Star performance in June that looks great but really guarantees him and the 49ers nothing.

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