Camp Q&A: Alex Smith

The most consequential summer of Alex Smith's football life has only just begun. Before the next month is over, Smith and the rest of 49erworld will know the direction his career is headed with the team, for better or worse, as he takes on the first true challenge to his role as the team's starting QB. Here, in a wide-ranging interview, Smith talks about the competition at QB and what lies ahead.

Q: So how did it go for you out there on the first day of training camp?
Smith:
You know, it's good to be out here practicing. There was so much anticipation for camp, so it's just nice to get the first one under our belt and just getting back to work. You definitely have those first-day, first-practice kind of mistakes and things that happen, some guys jumping offsides, different things like that. It's a matter of cleaning it up, I think, and guys will come out and work hard. It's a matter of continuing that focus every practice.

Q: Do you kind of feel that you're back where you were at this time last year, that 2007 was kind of a lost season for you?
Smith:
In a sense, it's different. It's always harder when you're coming in with a newer system and you're still trying to put your arms around it and grasp it, and really try to get a feel for it, especially from the quarterback's perspective and the decision making and what you have to do out there. So, I think that's my biggest focus right now, really trying to just get into that and master it as best I can.

Q: In the Mike Martz system, you always talk about timing. What was the timing like out there today?
Smith:
It's tough when you have a month off and you're not around each other. You kind of come together, finally, this morning, and it's just kind of a matter of trying to tune that in. Because the first day you miss things your normally (wouldn't). So it's just a matter of fixing it.

Q: What do you thing they're going to be grading you on in the quarterback competition? What's going to be most important?
Smith:
One of the biggest things is running the offense, executing the offense. Who can go out there and execute the offense? There's a lot of things that go into that, obviously throwing and decision making and being patient and a lot of different things. But I think the overall picture is to go out there and run the offense and execute it to your best ability, is the (guy) who's going to win the job.

Q: Are you bracing yourself for the possibility that you will not win the starting job, and what that would be like to have to prepare yourself to be the backup?
Smith:
At this point, obviously, I realize that that's a possibility, and I'm going out there and trying to win the job. But being here with the Niners the last few years, I'm obviously more then well experienced that all it takes is one play and the (starting) guy can go down and the next guy can be in there and it's his show. I think both Shaun and I understand that. I'm just focusing right now on going out there and doing the best I can.

Q: Are you full go now with your shoulder?
Smith:
I think there's a little there, maybe with some of the deeper balls. I think I need to stay on top of my shoulder as far as even fatigue goes and stay on top with some of the rehab stuff that I'm doing with shoulder. You do throw a lot here during camp and just trying to maintain it. There's a little bit, but I barely notice it out there. I feel really good, especially when I get going and warmed up.

Q: Does it ever get awkward in the locker room that you're competing for a high-profile starting job with a guy you also happen to be very good friends with?
Smith:
I think the great thing was that Shaun and I, when all this first started, kind of sat down early this spring and talked about it and joked and laughed about it, and that kind of broke the tension. Because it can get awkward and it can be difficult at times. This is something we both put a lot into – everything into. When you invest that much, and you're competing, emotions get high and guys get frustrated and guys want it. But up to this point, he and I have been great. I couldn't have expected to be any better between us.

Q: Is there less pressure because if you win the job, you win it and it's not being handed to you like it was in the past?
Smith:
It's different, yeah. Especially even from last year, because there's different expectations all the way around for this team, for me. When you walk in as the starter (last year), it's much different having to come in and compete. It's open competition and you have to earn your spot. Nothing's going to be given to you.

Q: Has there ever been a time when you asked yourself, ‘Why am I competing for this job? Why isn't this my job?'"
Smith:
I guess I've never really thought that. Shaun's a good player and he played well last year. I did have my injury and I was out and things happen. It is part of this game. Competition is part of this game. It happens every day out here with a lot of different positions and quarterback, for some reason in the NFL, is a position where sometimes it doesn't happen as often, especially when you're a high pick and things like that. Coming back to the competition, it's definitely inherent, it's definitely there. And I understand it, I guess. It's something they've decided. We're going to come out there and compete, and all I can do is go out there and try to win it.

Q: Despite the talk of open competition, do you get the sense that you're the No. 1 right now, perhaps the clear No. 1, and the starting job is yours to lose?
Smith:
I definitely try to take the role that, yeah, that is kind of my huddle and it has been for a few years now. It is strange that this afternoon I'll be out there with the 2s, but it makes me realize that I have to get back in there and got to make it happen so that I'm in that huddle and it's back to mine. In a way, sometimes I get back to that feeling because it has been so natural the last few years that you're out there with the 1s and that is your huddle with all your guys.

Q: Does this season kind of feel like your back is up against it?
Smith:
This is year No. 4 for me, which is hard to believe. We're coming in year 4, and all of a sudden I'm a veteran and having been through this three times and knowing what to expect. It's a little different with a new system coming in and I'm still kind of grasping that. But in a way, I've been through it, and there's been enough talk about potential and capabilities, and it's about going out here and consistently playing well at a high level.

Q: Considering the situation, how competitive is practice? Are you going out there with a game-type mentality?
Smith:
It's definitely high stakes. Every day is going to count. There's only two weeks before our first game. Every single day is going to get evaluated. Every single day is going to count. You have to come out here to play. You can't have an off day, or lack of focus, or anything like that.


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