Montana impressed with Smith's progress

Alex Smith has had to talk a lot about following in the footsteps of Joe Montana with the 49ers, but we've never had much of a chance to hear what Montana thinks about Smith. Here, in two separate interviews over the past two days, Montana gave some of his impressions on Smith and his development.

On Wednesday night, in an interview with "Late Hits" on SIRIUS NFL Radio, Montana was asked by former 49ers teammate Jerry Rice and co-host Bryan McGovern about Smith.

"I think he's a lot more improved and I think (he'll get better) the more you let him do things and put the ball in his hand," Montana said. "You know what? You can't worry about this season, so let him go ahead and do it. Put the pressure on him to make things happen and let him get better. You might not win, but he may surprise you and you may win some that you don't expect to win."

In his second NFL season, Smith ranks sixth in the NFC and 13th among NFL quarterbacks with a passer rating of 86.4. He has thrown of 1,285 yards in six games, completing 59.6 percent of his passes with eight touchdown throws and four interceptions.

While Smith is the full-time starter who has taken every snap with the 49ers so far this season, Montana still was being eased into the starting lineup by coach Bill Walsh during his second season with the 49ers in 1980.

Montana threw just 23 passes as a rookie in 1979 (Smith threw 165 passes in his rookie season last year) while sitting behind starter Steve DeBerg. But Montana got seven starts to DeBerg's nine in 1980 and finished with a fine second season, completing 176 of 273 passes for 1,795 yards with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He led the team with a 87.8 passer rating.

Montana has seen a similar kind of improvement in Smith's second season, which he talked about Thursday in an interview with 49ers writers.

"He's gotten a lot better from last year," Montana said. "Just the pure experience of getting in there is good for you. Especially when you have a guy that is so used to taking the ball from the shotgun position, he's got to take as many snaps as he can. No matter what you do, it's truly hard to emulate what happens around you in practice like it does in a game. Especially when you drop back, things are a lot closer to you then when you get into the shotgun.

"But I think he's improved a lot. I think they still have a few holes that they have to fill. I think as soon as they do that, they need a game breaker somewhere. Someone they can rely on. I don't think they have that yet. They have some talented guys, but no one's stepped up to really be that Dwight Clark or Jerry Rice. Someone you can depend on."

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