I’m hearing Thursday was the last time the media will be allowed to watch the San Francisco 49ers practice this season. After watching about a half dozen of these, with the first five dominated by the defense, the action during the media’s last practice glimpse stood in stark contrast.
That’s right, the offense looked efficient, competent, even explosive at times. Who was the leader whenever the unit looked its best? None other than Alexander Douglas Smith.
Perhaps as a result of Thursday’s performance by the offense during practice, or the offense’s ascendancy over the past week of practice (or the fact that Smith was heading to the podium in the 49ers’ media tent after Harbaugh spoke), a good portion of the questions asked of the 49ers’ head coach had to do with the starting quarterback.
Here is a portion of the Harbaugh Q&A transcript (briefly interrupted by an unrelated question about Randy Moss’ love of the game) that most people will notice, due to Harbaugh’s use of a NEW “e” word.
Did you find yourself this training camp doing less hands-on coaching with QB Alex Smith than last year maybe when you were working more on the fundamentals, and now it’s more about working on the schemes
“No, I wouldn’t say that. I think my role with him has been about what it was last year.”
Does he look a lot more comfortable in this offense?
“Yes. He’s an expert at it. He’s an expert in this offense, at this offense.”
When did you see that transformation of Alex Smith into an expert of this offense?
“Not on any particular day or date or throw or play, but it’s just been a process.”
Was he an expert last season?
“He is now. I notice it now. I think it’s all been a process and by the time we get here next year, he’ll be probably well past me because he’s very, very smart and already has great ideas. Already very creative, already very knowledgeable on how to use everything in the system, at our offense’s disposal for our offense’s good. Way ahead of the curve. I think after a year you really know it, but it takes about two years in the system to become a real expert at it from the quarterback position. But he’s cut that in half.”
Goodbye, “elite” … hello, “expert!”
So surely you know what the 49ers’ starting QB faced when it was his turn to enter the tent and face the assembled. Here’s a segment of Smith’s media session.
Your coach just described you as an expert in this offense. He said that it usually takes two years, you cut that in half. How do you feel about, as far as just your mastery of the offense?
“It’s better than it was a year ago. Yeah, I feel like I’ve progressed. When you’re playing quarterback, I feel like you’re always just working to get better and to learn. It’s never-ending. So, a lot left to learn.”
Do you feel like you know more about this offense than you have any other previous NFL offense?
“Yeah, for sure. No question.”
What aspect of it are you more comfortable with this year? Is there any part of the process?
“The details, I think. It always just comes down to the details. It’s not drawing up something on a whiteboard or on a piece of paper. It’s not just notes. It’s all the little details of the execution. What’s really going on on the field, all of those things. I think the other part of it is just getting a good understanding of intent. Getting a great feel for G.Ro [Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman] and why we’re calling stuff and what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to get out of it. So, I feel like I’m better at handling those situations.”
So do you agree with him you are an expert now in this offense?
“No, not at all. A lot to learn.”
Play of the Day
Easily a 40-yard touchdown pass to the left sideline from Smith to Vernon Davis. Davis was wide open on the play, with Patrick Willis the closest defender, but the ball was beautifully thrown.
I asked Harbaugh a question about the Alex-to-Vernon combo — whether something noticeable clicked between the two players during the postseason:
I asked that question because Smith frequently targeting Davis was the lasting image from that practice, mostly because those plays pop visually. Remember when Davis suddenly started going off against New Orleans, starting with that 49-yard TD in the first quarter, and how almost out of place it looked? Passing touchdowns aren’t supposed to look this easy for the 49ers, are they?
It’s only practice, but Smith and Davis still have that postseason look going.
Even though the 49ers have established receivers like Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn, along with first round pick A.J. Jenkins, there’s been talk of an unproven yet athletic receiver entering the mix. Namely, Brian Tyms, Nathan Palmer or Chris Owusu. Owusu probably has no realistic shot of making the team due to his concussion history, but Palmer’s been productive throughout camp and Tyms certainly has the physical tools.
However, there were a couple times when some of the younger receivers were confused on which routes they were to run, including a time when Tyms, Palmer and Owusu were all lined up on the right side of the field in none of them seemed to know where they were going, leading to a 10-second delay or so until the play could run as planned.
Competition among friends
I’ve heard some trash talk between the defense and offense during camp (with the defense usually doing most of the talking), but besides Kyle Williams going after Deante’ Purvis a week or so ago the team seems to get along extraordinarily well. Smith talked about that during his media session.
Does Head Coach Jim Harbaugh want it to be that O vs. D mentality?
“Not at all, no. In fact he’s the opposite; very much squashing it It’s a great competitiveness out here. This isn’t something where anything gets taken too far. You guys see it, we don’t have any of the team brawls and stuff that go on a lot of places. We’ve got a great locker room, great group of guys. But it’s fun to get competitive sometimes and get after each other. It’s good. It’s a lot of fun out there.”
Aldon Smith makes an appearance
Wearing a 49ers jersey, shorts, tights and neon-colored cross trainers, Aldon Smith made his first appearance at practice since injuring his hip in Friday night’s preseason game. I hadn’t noticed a limp while Aldon was walking around the sideline talking to his defensive teammates and, for a short while, Trent Baalke (who watched a good portion of practice next to Jed York). However, as he walked over to sign autographs when practice was over, he wasn’t walking in a way that looked completely pain-free. He won’t play anymore in the preseason, but I’d imagine he’ll be fine by Week 1.
The 49ers really play some incredible music to simulate crowd noise in a road setting. Included on Thursday: Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” and “Everybody Dance Now” by C+C Music Factory (which I’ve heard at 49ers practice before). There were some more modern choices heard, such as “Electric Feel” by MGMT and some Eminem song I heard when I arrived at the 49ers’ facility, but it’s more fun to believe that the music they play comes from Harbaugh’s own CD collection.
Gotta watch the tape…
Dashon Goldson wadded up a ball of athletic tape near the end of practice, and threw it at Justin Smith. Smith pretended to be upset, and Goldson seemed pretty happy with himself … for good reason. There’s really nothing better than throwing something harmless at a coworker (and connecting) when they aren’t looking.