Smith to Bryant becoming 49ers bread & butter

The 49ers just entered their second week of training camp, but Antonio Bryant already can see a special bond developing with Alex Smith. "When Mike (Jordan) got in the gym, the first person he was probably looking to dish it to was Scottie Pippen," Bryant said late Saturday afternoon after the 49ers' first intra-squad scrimmage of the summer. "I feel like I'm Alex's Pippen, you know what I mean?"

Yes, Antonio, we know what you mean.

Particularly after Saturday's scrimmage, when Smith hooked up with Bryant for three receptions in the first 12 plays, including another long-bomb collaboration that is becoming commonplace between the second-year quarterback and fifth-year receiver during 49ers training camp.

This time, it came when both were facing live bullets.

Smith completed his first three passes of the scrimmage - the first went to Bryant for a completion that moved the chains for a first down - but it was his fourth consecutive completion that was the highlight of the day and brought roars from a crowd of 3,000 on hand at the team facility in Santa Clara.

On a second-down play, Smith pumped faked over the middle to tight end Vernon Davis, freezing the safety. Then he pivoted to his left and let sail with a deep spiral down the sideline that softly landed in the hands of a striding Bryant, who had toasted cornerback Mike Rumph on the play. Bryant cradled the pass and sprinted the final distance into the end zone untouched.

"When you got guys like Vernon and Bryan (Gilmore) and Antonio running down the field like that, it puts safeties in binds," Smith said. "When Vernon's running fast down the middle of the field and I pump at him, that safety is going to jump on it and it's going to leave Antonio wide open like he was. Those guys are making it easy."

Bryant seems to be making life much easier on Smith after the horror show that was Smith's rookie season in 2005, when he was thrown to the wolves with a group of receiving complements that easily was the worst in the NFL. It's different now with guys such as Bryant (who arrived this year as a free agent), Davis (the team's top draft pick), Gilmore (also a new free agent) and Eric Johnson (who missed last season with a foot injury) around.

Especially Bryant.

Clearly, the 49ers have not had a receiving talent of this proportion since Terrell Owens left town after the 2003 season. And Smith is showing he knows what to do with him. Whether it's by design or execution, Bryant already has become Smith's obvious top target.

And the rapport between the two is developing rapidly. On Saturday's long touchdown pass - the only TD scored by the first-team offense in its 15-play allotment - Bryant wasn't even Smith's No. 1 option on the play.

Smith is looking for and finding Bryant several times each summer practice during team drills, which is where the offense faces the most defensive resistance. On Friday alone, Smith connected with a diving Bryant with a pass that covered 65 yards in the air before Bryant reeled it in during the morning session. The two combined on a 50-yard touchdown and several other long receptions during the afternoon session.

"It's coming between us," Smith said. "Every day we practice together, every time we take reps and throw routes, we get better and better. The nice thing about Antonio is he's great at communicating. He comes back and tells you what he sees, tells you what he's thinking, how they're playing him, the different looks he's getting. And the more and more we communicate, we get on the same page."

Bryant came to San Francisco as a free agent in March after signing a four-year, $14 million deal, then immediately stepped in as the 49ers' No. 1 receiver. He has emerged as Smith's top target since the middle of spring drills, but it stands out even more now that Smith seems to be breaking through and developing at a more rapid pace.

Bryant has had issues at his first two NFL stops in Dallas and Cleveland, but now it's a clean slate, and he is thriving in the prominent role being thrust upon him on a rebuilding team. After recording career highs of 69 receptions for 1,009 yards last season with the Cleveland Browns, Bryant is looking for bigger things in San Francisco as he and Smith develop a rapport.

"Most definitely," Bryant responded when SFI asked him after Saturday's scrimmage if he's aware of chemistry developing with Smith. "If you have a (quarterback) that goes out there and you stretch yourself out and you try to make plays for him all the time, he'll try to come to you. If I'm what I should be all the time, it will make it a lot easier for the quarterback."

"We're trying to find a set of plays that is our bread and butter - the plays you can run without a doubt. That's what we're trying to put together for ourselves."

Smith to Bryant. Six days before the 49ers' preseason opener, that catchy connection already is having quite a bread-and-butter ring to it.

Niners Digest Top Stories