What the 49ers must see from Alex Smith

It's a fresh start this week for Alex Smith, and in that regard, a fresh start for the 49ers. But now, in Smith's second go as the team's starting QB after his October debut was aborted by injury, the Niners need to start seeing progress from their high-priced No. 1 overall draft pick. Smith has been watching and learning from the sidelines the past five weeks, and with the experience of two very rocky starts behind him, here's a list of 10 things he needs to show everybody the final five weeks:

1. Playmaking ability: The promise possessed by Smith's talent and athleticism is what got the kid drafted No. 1 over every other college player in the land. But, except for a few shining moments in the preseason finale against San Diego, Smith has shown in game action very little of the special qualities that made him so successful in Utah's wide-open offense last year. He was thrown into the fire in October and got burned. Now it's time to show that he has adapted to the heat and can let his natural ability take over.

2. Move the offense: And, even if that playmaking ability doesn't immediately come to the surface, Smith must find whatever it takes to keep the offense going forward on a consistent basis, something the 49ers never have had at any point this season. This may be his biggest challenge the rest of the way, considering many of the players around him are in a similar predicament, but Smith can't allow the offense to bog down on practically every series like it did the first two games he started. Coach Mike Nolan says one player can't take the 49ers to the promised land, but Smith has to be the one player that starts taking the Niners to more first downs.

3. Making good decisions: Smith said Wednesday that, for him, making good decisions is the bottom line to success. And it's true that he made a lot of bad decisions during his first two starts against very good defenses in Washington and Indianapolis. Making the right decisions comes with time for a young quarterback, but Smith must start doing it at least some of the time during the December stretch run.

4. Confidence: Smith played scared in his first two starts. He never talked that way before or after those two games, but his actions on the field suggested otherwise. Smith wasn't by any means broken by those two dismal outings, and his confidence never has seemed rattled. But now that he's taken those October lumps, he needs to come out playing with more authority and poise with the conviction that he's the man who can make it happen for a floundering offense.

5. Escapability and improvisation: Despite playing in less than the equivalent of three games, Smith has been sacked 12 times this season – more than any other San Francisco quarterback. That's a rather shocking statistic for a player who was supposed to be nimble on his feet. Those sacks certainly can't all be attributed to Smith – in fact, the blame for many of them goes to shoddy blocking in front of him – but he must do better at feeling pressure and evading it when it comes.

6. Command of huddle: By most accounts, Smith's teammates have been impressed by the way he has taken control in the huddle since he joined the team last spring. But now he has to take it another step further. He'll still be the youngest player in that huddle, but there will be a lot of other youngsters there with him. He must show them who's boss and push them to excellence as he attempts to attain it himself.

7. Accuracy: Smith has a good arm. But he sprayed the ball all over the field in his earlier action this season, completing just 46 percent of his 50 passes. A lot of that was his fault as he sailed passes and had others underthrown. This is a subtle and practiced art, but Smith needs to show more than just that he knows where to go with the ball. He needs to get it there, too.

8. Reading defenses/line of scrimmage: It's still too early to expect much from Smith in something that can only come with time. But, after all, his intelligence was a big factor in the Niners' drafting him. After facing live bullets earlier in the season, then having five weeks to step back and apply what he learned while Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett ran the show, Smith should have a better grasp about the complexities of opposing defenses and, more importantly, how they will come at him. When he sees something at the line of scrimmage, he has to put what he's learned to use and even change plays when necessary.

9. Get aggressive: Smith needs to play with more of an attacking mentality, be more proactive than reactive. In other words, show that he belongs. The game, obviously, still is coming to him. But he must go out and get it, too.

10. Winning: Smith is San Francisco's quarterback of the future, so he needs a few victories as a starting quarterback this season to take into that future. Two victories the rest of the way is not an unrealistic expectation, so the pressure is on. Three wins would be fantastic. Four or more wins would be dreaming, but when you spend $50 million on a 21-year-old quarterback with two years of starting experience in college … Well, that's the stuff of which dreams are made. Or destroyed.


Niners Digest Top Stories