Alex the right choice at QB

Mike Singletary offered the answer before he was even shot with the question early Monday afternoon. "Alex Smith will be the quarterback," the 49ers coach said during his day-after news conference. "We need to go with Alex." And while that's not exactly the clear-cut choice many think it is, it is the right choice for the Niners to get them back on track toward a winning season.

The Smith bandwagon no doubt has its wheels broken down due to overload right about now, with so many people sure to have jumped on after the former No. 1 overall draft selection delivered the best half of football in his five-year career to almost lead the 49ers all the way back from a three-touchdown deficit during Sunday's 24-21 loss to the Houston Texans.

Those are the people that believe in the hot hand, and also those who have never stopped believing in Smith and the potential he has occasionally exhibited during his tumultuous and uneven tenure in San Francisco.

Those people no doubt either choose to ignore history and reality, or are willing to believe that Smith has finally turned the corner and is ready to arrive.

History and reality suggest that Smith still is the product who is on the borderline of being a considerable bust. One sterling half of football doesn't change that. So don't go getting your hopes up in the clouds that Smith and the 49ers have finally found The Answer at the most important individual position in all of professional sports.

Keep in mind that during this entire summer and preseason Smith still was the erratic, scatter-armed signal-caller that characterized his earlier stints as San Francisco's No. 1 quarterback. That's why Shaun Hill was a convincing winner in the battle waged between Smith and Hill for the starting job this summer.

But, while it may not have shown when it needed to, as far as him winning the starting job, Smith was making progress and definitely was maturing as a quarterback. And his confidence and belief that he still can make a difference at the position hadn't wavered.

I had an opportunity to talk with Smith for a while last week, just to catch up with him and how he's doing, since backup quarterbacks don't spend a lot of time talking to the media each week. I asked him how it was going in his new role, and how ready he'd be if called upon in the upcoming weeks.

"It's hard, and definitely different, because I've never been in this role before," Smith replied. "But I'm not anywhere close to the quarterback I was a few years ago. I know I can show that if the opportunity comes along."

And so it did.

And so Smith did.

Showing a newfound touch and accuracy on his passes down the field, and a decisiveness in the pocket uncharacteristic of his previous play, Smith was exceptional while leading the 49ers on three lengthy touchdown drives in the second half, finishing each of them with well-thrown scoring strikes to tight end Vernon Davis.

Smith made all the throws in the comeback effort, and his tendency to spray the ball around the field with conspicuous overthrows only surfaced a few times in his 22 pass attempts, 15 of which Smith completed for 206 yards. In just one half, Smith had almost surpassed the best yardage production Hill had managed in an entire game this year (209 yards in the season opener).

Smith also moved well and seems to be able to make better use of his feet than in the past. And his vision, which at 6-foot-4 always promised to be an asset for Smith, seemed to click in and provide him awareness in the pocket like never before.

But the best thing about Smith, pure and simple, is that when he is on like he was Sunday, he becomes a true offensive weapon.

And that is why Smith is the right choice to take over from Hill, who – let's face it – was not going to take the 49ers to the playoffs this season if he remained the starter.

That's not meant to be a slam on Hill, who had done his job as a game manager to get the 49ers into first place in the NFC West earlier this season. But Hill obviously has reached the ceiling of his ability and would have a difficult time keeping the 49ers at that level now that opponents know what's coming and what to expect from a quarterback with average skills, at best.

But with Smith, nobody can exactly be sure what's coming anymore. It sure looked like the light has gone on during his impressive stint against the Texans. Combine that with Smith's physical tools, and he all of a sudden becomes a dangerous quarterback.

Opponents must now take into consideration that Smith can make plays and knows what he's doing. The physical skills are there, and if Smith has finally found his quarterback mojo, watch out.

The guy was a playmaker Sunday like he seldom has been in his career. Combine that kind of threat with Davis, rookie receiver Michael Crabtree, running back Frank Gore ... and all of a sudden the 49ers have dangerous skill at the skill positions that can quickly turn a staggering offense into one that produces consistently.

Davis, who leads the NFL in touchdown receptions, has quickly become a legitimate playmaker at tight end. Crabtree, quite simply, has hands to die for and – given his auspicious debut against the Texans – looks ready to step in immediately and make an impact. Gore, well, he's an elite running back if he has people around him who are doing their jobs adequately.

But the 49ers need a quarterback to make it all work. They need an offensive line, too, but that's another story. The line sure seems to get its act together once Smith got in the game. He went unsacked, and didn't face nearly the pressure Hill did earlier in the game.

But Smith had something to do with that. Once he proved his opening-drive direction in the third quarter wasn't a fluke, the Texans had to adjust and respect the fact Smith could get the ball to his receivers on something longer than the short and intermediate routes that were the only things the 49ers had confidence in calling for Hill.

It says here that Smith's play Sunday was no fluke. It's also something everybody shouldn't immediately expect to see every time he takes the field. He'll no doubt run into some rough stretches the next few weeks as he looks to find his groove.

But the upside of Alex Smith has arrived. And just in time to keep this season from falling apart.

"I feel that Alex Smith gives us the best chance to win, and to use the tools that we have going forward," Singletary said. "Alex really just kind of fits the bill in terms of doing the things that we need to get done."

And that's find a productive offense to complement the team's playoff-caliber defense, and hope that the second coming of Alex Smith can take the 49ers back to the promised land.



Niners Digest Top Stories