SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Alex Smith feels comfortable, but even more important in the first week of the San Francisco 49ers' training camp is that his offensive coordinator feels comfortable with Alex Smith.
They've come a long way in a short time. One year ago, Jimmy Raye was the 49ers' newest offensive coordinator – the fifth OC for Smith in his five seasons as the team's quarterback. Now they're together for a second full season and feeling better about where they're going.
"From 365 days ago to now is like night and day," Raye said today after the Niners' morning workout. "As far as expectations, I've been around long enough to know that no year bleeds into the next, so how you manage the start of the next year is very important. The fact he's more comfortable coming into this year from a language standpoint and a play standpoint gives us all reason to be excited."
As far as job security goes, Smith couldn't be in a better position. Last year, he battled Shaun Hill for the starting job, lost the competition in camp and sat until Week 7. But he became the starter in late October, won three of his last four starts and has exhibited a sense of confidence and leadership since beginning offseason training.
"I feel good, and I think that's a good thing for everybody," Smith said. "The expectations have definitely risen, and I think we all expect so much more, and I expect more success. We have to continue to demand that of ourselves."
Coaches and players have talked about Smith's take-charge attitude in the huddle and his willingness to let teammates know when they've erred. If that confidence translates to the field, the 49ers' offense, which ranked 22nd in passing in 2009, could reap the benefits.
At the very least, Smith is benefiting from the fact he's the anointed starter.
"A year ago at this time, there was a cloud of uncertainty about his ability to play and in the locker room," Raye said. "Now that we've gone through a nine-game slate with him and the offense and we're more familiar with him and his leadership qualities, it's his team.
"That's where the arduous days of training camp get you to the point where, from an offensive standpoint, you can make the wrong call and he can make it right, or you can make the right call and he can make it better."
And without someone peering over his shoulder, Smith can approach camp with one focus – getting the offense in synch.
"It's different (this year)," he said. "My focus is to do every single thing we can to get ready for opening day. It's easy to just go through the motions and not get better. This is an entirely new year. We haven't accomplished anything to this point and we have to have that mindset."