Smith about to become McCarthy's pet project

Alex Smith has had more than a week to absorb the 49ers' thick playbook. Now he's about to become Mike McCarthy's pet project. And, while the Niners' new offensive coordinator won't exactly treat the team's prized No. 1 draft pick like a lab rat over the next few months, he does plan to treat him like a blank slate. "You have to start from zero," McCarthy said. "Nothing will be assumed, and he will learn the ins and outs of our offense. He's going to learn everything."

"That's just the way we're going to do it here with what's asked of him," McCarthy continued. "We will start A through Z, no different than what we did with Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett."

Smith probably is already past Point A now that he's had some time to study the West Coast offensive system that is being instilled by McCarthy this season. But he'll take the next step this weekend when he participates in the team's first full-squad spring minicamp, which begins Friday at the team's Santa Clara headquarters.

"We'll get to work with him," McCarthy said. "I'm going to spend as much time with him as possible."

After a long process of evaluating the top two college quarterbacks available in the NFL draft this year – Smith and Cal's Aaron Rodgers – McCarthy came away convinced well before draft day that Smith would be the right guy for the 49ers.

And McCarthy's opinion counts, since he is the man and the mind who now is in control of the San Francisco offense, which he will build around Smith.

In a recent conversation, it was obvious there isn't a lot that McCarthy – a coach who doesn't typically gush with praise – doesn't like about Smith.

Here are some of McCarthy's takes on issues regarding his new quarterback:

On Smith coming from a shotgun offense in college: "That is no concern of mine at all. Not at all. We will be in the shotgun here, too. We're going to start under center regardless because all the footwork training for a quarterback in this offense is under center. But the same principles will be carried over to the shotgun. To me, it's any way you want to shake it. If I had a guy that played nothing but behind center, like some of the guys I'm working with here now, we've got to put them in the shotgun and teach them that, too."

On Smith's intelligence: "He's a very intelligent young man, and that's obviously a factor, because it gives you flexibility to be diverse in your game planning and your attack throughout a 16-game season. He had a clear understanding of his role and what was asked of him in the offense at Utah. I was very impressed with his ability to sit and explain in a classroom atmosphere, and then turn on the film and see exactly what he explained had shown up on the film. That's not always true when you get into college quarterback evaluations."

On Smith's arm strength: "I think as his body strength will increase the velocity on his throws will have a chance to increase. But his arm strength is not a factor."

What makes him a good fit for San Francisco's offense: "The intelligence, his understanding of the offense. His toughness, just the way he plays. His athletic ability. And his competitiveness. He's lost one football game in two years. You're talking about a football player that shows that he can play the game."

On how soon Smith can contribute: "Time will tell that. I'm not a crystal ball guy. We're going to get him ready. Everybody will earn their job and everybody will earn their pay here, and that will be the theme with (Smith) and everybody else. I'm an open-minded, very optimistic individual, so we're going to train our quarterbacks as a group, and the best player will play."

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