Alex Smith

Niners gain o-linemen, Smith loses excuses

Congratulations to the NFL, who for the first time since the early 1980’s televised a first round of the draft that I didn’t watch one second of. I know we don’t matter here on the West Coast, especially guys like me who work until after 6pm and walk home past the Tenderloin (that’s right, I’m HARD like that). Oh well, at least doing the draft this way allows the Giants and Jets fans more time to get wasted, so at least there’s that.

You knew it was a strange first round when the Raiders went conservative and selected Rolando McClain, who surely they hope will step in and become the East Bay version of Patrick Willis. Even though you supposedly aren’t supposed to take middle linebackers in the top 10 — or guards in the top 30, safeties in the top 5, and all the other rules we seem to have set up for one of the least predictable and crapshootiest (I know, not a word) endeavors in sports — the Raiders’ well-known practice of overvaluing workout warriors and defensive backs wasn’t really working.

Neither was the 49ers’ offensive line last year, which is why anybody who complains about what they did in the first round is simply upset because they don’t know how to pronouce “Iupati.” Without Bobb McKittrick around, the 49ers can’t select cerebral 280-pound guys and plug them in anymore. To say watching the team run last year was laborious would be an understatement. Any time they gave the ball to Moran Norris in short yardage, the 49ers were guaranteed to lose a yard. The only time Frank Gore was able to shine was when he took advantage of one of the few holes he was given and nobody was in the defensive backfield to tackle him. Otherwise it was 1 or 2 yards, let’s throw on 3rd down.

The 49ers were a .500 team last year, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they won a lot of first and second downs but were abysmal on third down. Now Alex Smith has no more excuses for sending Andy Lee back on the field a minute and a half after the 49ers had taken possession, because instead of having to look over his shoulder at Jimmy Clausen, he gets to look down at the butts of Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati.

(By the way, the 49ers would be stupid not to put Iupati jerseys on the Candlestick parking lot porta-johns next season. “Just a sec guys, I gotta go Iupati before we finish this round of beer pong.”)

So now it’s time for Alex to soar like the eagle, as Ralph Barbieri once said. Same offensive coordinator for two years running. No highly touted replacements behind him. Weapons at every skill position. Adam Snyder, Barry Sims and David Baas in the backup roles they belong in. A healthy shoulder.

If Smith can’t convert on 3rd-and-whatever this upcoming season, he becomes David Carr. For somebody else.

While all this first round love for the offense makes sense on a team that has had trouble scoring touchdowns since Steve Mariucci left, the Niners weren’t so hot on third down when it came to the defensive side of the ball either. For all the talk about the Niners being the class of the NFC West, the Cardinals have been a McNabb/Roethlisberger trade away from clinching the division for the last month. It doesn’t even matter that Anquan Boldin’s gone; Steve Breaston could carve up the Niners’ secondary as it’s currently constructed, and they can’t expect Patrick Willis to play the role of two linebackers forever. OK, maybe they can for a while, anyway.

Rookie cornerbacks rarely make a huge impact in their first years, unless their names are Champ or Deion. Still, one has to wonder what the secondary will look like next year. Will Nate Clements be a new starting safety, or will they release him. Clements is overpaid, but he’s a fantastic tackler and 2010 is an uncapped year. Hopefully he stays, because he’d be better than anyone the team will be able to find in the free agency scrap heap, unless they plan to count on the heavily concussed Michael Lewis and sign a veteran free agent corner (like Fred Smoot, Ty Law, Nick Harper or Ken Lucas) on the cheap.

I guess that’s why there’s more than just one round, even though ESPN and the NFL would have wanted you to think that nothing was more important than what potential draft picks actually made the trip to New York.

ZOMG CLAUSEN ISN’T HERE HIS STOCK IS FALLING WHAT A LITTLE PUNK HE’S NOT A LEADER!!!!

In reality, the draft is a made-for-TV event that isn’t presented all that well on TV, which is why I walked home instead of to the sports bar on 4th and Mission after work yesterday. You have ESPN’s cast of characters vying for camera time and the unbelievably awkward Roger Goodell (who should be suspended for the first 6 games of next season because he can’t read good). The only picks that are exciting are bad ones (God, I’m glad I hate the Broncos), which is why the 49ers (and to a lesser extent, the Raiders) had a great night last night. Alex Smith had a great night too, as long as he doesn’t mourn the loss of all those ways to rationalize his own failure.

Totally off-topic: I loved this review of 7-Eleven’s new self-made “premium” beer by the Peter Hartlaub. It’s a must-read for anyone who’s found themselves knee deep in a pile of PBR, Coors, Keystone or Olympia cans.

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