Alex airs it out while showing off rocket arm

All of a sudden, Alex Smith appears to be wearing a bazooka attached to his right shoulder. Or is it really all that sudden? Smith let loose on Friday with one of the prettiest deep passes he ever has thrown in his two seasons with the 49ers, and coach Mike Nolan said nobody should be surprised.

The 49ers were moving along with a rather ordinary morning practice session at training camp when Smith dropped back to pass during team drills.

Looking deep for his new favorite target, Antonio Bryant, the 49ers' second-year quarterback uncorked a rocket spiral that traveled some 65 yards in the air before Bryant was able to run it down and makie a diving catch with cornerback Shawntae Spencer nipping at his heels.

It was one of those moments where jaws drop and people look at each other with a "Did-he-really-do-that?" look.

Yes, he did.

"Yeah, it's supposed to be about 60, 65 (yards) all the time," coach Mike Nolan said.

The long pass didn't hang, didn't sail and arrived on a perfect trajectory, allowing Bryant just enough time to separate from Spencer and stretch out horizontally to bring it in.

When asked if it was one of the nicer passes he ever has seen his young quarterback throw, and if Smith also seems to be developing some chemistry with Bryant, who arrived earlier this year as a free agent, Nolan responded, "Yes and yes."

That's true and true.

Smith and Bryant have been teaming up on some pretty pass-and-catch collaborations throughout training camp, but it's happening now on a regular basis, several times each practice.

After the great throw in the morning session, Smith hit Bryant on a post pattern with another well-thrown bomb that went 50 yards in the air during the afternoon practice. On the very next play, he fired another tight spiral that hit Bryant in the hands on a crossing pattern that went for another big gain.

On the seventh day of training camp practices, Smith had his best session yet. He definitely has improved his arm strength and deep throws compared to his rocky rookie season, when he most often was only so-so in each category.

His passes are being thrown with force and accuracy, and they have the kind of "stuff" on them that was seen only occasionally in the past. Another fine Smith throw Friday was a sideline out pattern to Bryan Gilmore that was thrown on a line and was heaved so strongly and got to its intended target so quickly that it appeared to almost knock Gilmore down as he reached up to reel it in.

That throw produced several exclamations from Smith's offensive teammates, including a hand slap from backup quarterback Trent Dilfer, among others.

When asked if it's apparent that Smith has better arm strength now than most people give him credit for, Nolan said, "For people that don't know him, yeah. For the people that know him, it's not an issue."

It's obviously not an issue with Nolan, who tried to downplay Smith's eye-popping throw in the morning. In general, the coach said, Smith is good with his deep passes.

"Everybody is different," Nolan said. "If he's throwing to me, or throwing to you, or throwing to Antonio - that's three different guys he's throwing to. The chemistry is something you want to get with players, so the more you throw to them, the better. He's thrown to Antonio a lot. Naturally, the chemistry is coming along better and better."

Or in Smith's case, simply coming long. Really long.


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