Alex's 2006 arrival right on schedule

Alex Smith looked like a new quarterback Friday night in the 49ers' exhibition opener against the Chicago Bears. Of course, that is exactly what the 22-year-old signal caller is now that he's entering his second NFL season.

The lost looks, unsure decision-making and wandering throws of Smith's fall-flat-on-his-face rookie debut last year were nowhere to be seen. In their place was a confident, mobile, dart-throwing Smith who had his best half of football as a 49er while directing San Francisco to an impressive 28-14 victory.

Nobody was more impressive than Smith, who completed 16 of 21 passes for 137 yards and guided the 49ers to a 17-0 lead before he left the game late in the second quarter.

"Alex did exactly what I hoped the offense would do, and that was that he moved the ball down the field and he made some plays," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "He had an opportunity to use his legs, showed his mobility and was able to step up in the pocket to make some plays."

Smith was precise and accurate with his throws while in the pocket or on the run, completing five of his first six passes and 9 of 12 in the first quarter alone to set the tone of the game.

His first two passes went for first downs to Antonio Bryant, who has become Smith's favorite target during summer training camp practices and certainly was when the live bullets started flying Friday. Bryant had a game-high five receptions for 54 yards, all of those passes coming from Smith.

"He's a guy who makes you look good," Smith said of his favorite target. "I think he has a knack for getting open and a feel for getting the ball. He's easy to throw to."

Smith looked much more at ease than at any time in 2005, and he didn't come close to making any of the mistakes or poor decisions that plagued his dismal rookie season, when he had 11 interceptions and fumbled 11 times. He didn't come close to making a turnover Friday, and he also wasn't sacked while showing good presence in the pocket.

And he never once got rattled, which often was his downfall as a rookie.

"I had so much anxious energy to let out tonight," Smith said. "There was so much anxious energy for this whole team, especially on the offensive side of the ball. I felt more and more comfortable from the beginning. I'm no longer the rookie quarterback; I know what it's like now. You want to take advantage of every snap, and I did better understanding what I'm getting from the defense and where to go with the ball."

Smith was perhaps most impressive when throwing as he rolled out, one of his strengths in college that he seldom was able to put on display last year.

But on Friday, Smith was drilling receivers in the numbers while on the run.

"A strength of mine is running and getting out on the edge," Smith said. "I think it's something we've worked really hard on and it's something we do well. It's a different feel for us. It keeps defenses on their heels. We kind of brought the fight to them now."

Smith doesn't need to convince the Bears.

"They ran a lot of boots and counter-passes which gave him a chance to move around and he did it well," Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "He put the ball where he had to put it tonight and his receivers made some good catches."

In the process, Smith took his biggest step in arriving as a NFL quarterback. He took an even bigger step in putting his rookie season in the rear view mirror, though Nolan said that experience is one of the reasons it all began to come together for Smith on Friday.

"I hope he never forgets last year," Nolan said. "I think that's really important, because those are great lessons to learn. As far as becoming confident that he can do it, I think it's a good start for him. That's very important. It also helps us just from an overall offensive standpoint, because his job affects so many people. It's not just that he does a good job, but other people start to look good too when that happens."

The San Francisco offense hasn't looked this good in years, and Smith and the rest of the first unit was doing it against a Chicago defense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL last year. By halftime, the 49ers had rolled up 203 yards on that defense - San Francisco finished with a final 397-252 advantage in total yards after the reserves started rolling in midway through the second quarter - with Smith going to the bench for the rest of the evening with a tidy 92.8 quarterback rating for his half of work.

"I wasn't around last year, but I do know one thing: He can play," Bryant said.


Niners Digest Top Stories