Alex Smith

Alex Smith’s new mechanics imitate Joe Montana’s ‘Art and Magic’

You can call Alex Smith many names (especially if that name is “Steve Blake”), but you cannot call him lazy. If he’s not searching for missing teens, caddying for Jim Harbaugh, or business-tripping to Miami, then he’s mastering his craft.

Following the Pebble Beach Pro Am, Smith told CSN Bay Area’s Jim Kozimor that he was planning to spend the offseason working on “strengthening weaknesses, getting better, (and) analyzing where you need to get better.”

True to his word, Smith spent a week with pitching guru Tom House, who been referred to Smith by Drew Brees, who plays a pretty mean quarterback himself. House, apparently, stripped Smith down to analyze his body (something many a coach had me do in my youth). Once sufficiently analyzed, House redressed Smith and his throwing motion.

According to’s Matt Maoicco, House’s tutelage focused on one area: Smith’s lower body. Specifically, Smith would work to improve his drop-back footwork and his knee flex. By improving both, Smith stands to significantly improve his weaknesses, including his tendency to take sacks, throw high on crossing and out routes, and overthrow deep balls.

The Drop

The drops I am most accustomed to are those done in such a way as to suggest heat or hotness. Smith’s drop will be different, I hope.

Smith told, “(I was) working on my drops, being more efficient with my movement.”

Sources elaborated on Smith’s inefficiencies to Maiocco, intimating that “When Smith takes a straight drop-back, he has a tendency to veer off the center line and his right hip flies open as he sets.”

The source continued, “Without perfect balance, the accuracy and velocity of Smith’s throws are impacted — especially on throws to his left.”

Efficiency of feet and alignment of hips are areas stressed in most books written on the subject, including The Art and Magic of Quarterbacking by Joe Montana, The Art of Quarterbacking by Ken Anderson and Complete Quarterbacking by Don Read.

In fact, Smith’s uncoordinated hips might explain his tendency to miss targets, at least if we are to believe Montana, who believes “Opening your hips too soon will cause overthrows.”

Smith’s poor foot coordination creates problems with accuracy and velocity with a quarterback’s footwork.  According to Read, “Accuracy and velocity are affected positively or negatively by the coordination of a quarterback’s feet and arm.”

Anderson takes it a step further, arguing “foot speed is the key (to quarterbacking).” In Anderson’s opinion, poor foot speed results in “lazy” or “slow” drop backs, which results in sacks—maybe even as many as 44 of them.

“(He) only has a few seconds in which to pass,” Anderson writes, “so the quicker (he) gets into position to throw, the more he will be able to see and the sooner he can take advantage of the defense.”

Smith certainly didn’t take advantage of many defenses. Nor did he do his offensive line any favors. As Matt Maiocco points out, “(Smith) did not ‘throw open receivers’ with regularity. And he often held the ball too long and took unnecessary sacks.” Both can be seen as symptoms of poor footwork. If his drop his bad, then he won’t be able to read the movement of the defense, which means he’ll hang on the ball and take unnecessary sacks.

Leg Lock

Team sources also told Maiocco that Smith is worked on correcting the bend, or lack thereof, in his left knee.

“Smith locks his front leg (left leg) as he strides during his throwing motion,” Maiocco reports. “(Ron) Jaworski has said repeatedly that without a flexed knee and cushion, Smith’s accuracy and velocity suffers.”

Again, Smith’s leg issues lead to problems with arm strength and accuracy. Whereas his drops were causing overthrows, his stiff leg were causing underthrows. Quite the paradox, I know.

“You don’t want to land on a stiff front knee,” Montana writes. “This keeps your weight from shifting through your delivery. It will cause you to throw short, while also putting enormous strain on your arm.”

Don Read confirms this, believing a flexed front leg is especially important for quarterbacks who lack arm strength — which many believe is problem Smith possesses. According to Read, if the quarterback is to add momentum to the throw, “he must keep his body low in the beginning, with his knees bent, well until push off from the back leg begins.”

Ultimately, Smith already stood to make gainful strides this season without these mechanical tweaks. The reasons for this abound. The weapons added and the offensive system point to Smith’s 2012 improvement. With these improvements, it is not unfair to suggest that many of Smith’s weaknesses could be remedied to certain degree. So if you want to call Smith anything, call him much improved.

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