The San Francisco 49ers were truly the Cinderella team of the 2011 NFL season with new head coach Jim Harbaugh as the fairy godmother and quarterback Alex Smith in glass slippers…unfortunately, the clock struck midnight in overtime for the 49ers just as the Giants knocked in the winning field goal.
Smith surprised everyone last season by increasing his passing yardage by 1,000 yards, cutting his interceptions from the previous season in half and ultimately breaking out as a near-elite quarterback.
Make no mistake; Smith’s performance in 2011 was no fluke. In fact, it looks like No. 11 will continue to impress in 2012 (a possible benefit from trying to earn his three-year, $24 million contract).
Whatever the motivation, Smith looks strong, so let’s take a look at the top three reasons why he won’t regress in 2012.
With time comes experience, and while experience with the receivers is important for Alex Smith’s continued progress, experience with both the head coach and the offensive coordinator is even more important.
Smith will be under Jim Harbaugh’s watchful eye for his second year. Keep in mind that Jim Harbaugh was an NFL quarterback and knows exactly what Alex Smith has gone through.
Add to that, Smith is finally settling into Harbaugh’s West Coast offensive scheme.
During the 2011 season, Smith picked up the title of “game manager” by the media, and despite its negative intentions to criticize his safe play, it's actually a compliment considering the complexity of Harbaugh’s offensive scheme.
Smith has never been one to heave up a Hail Mary, but rather, he's controlled and thoughtful when throwing a pass, and those skills make him the perfect signal-caller for a controlled West Coast offense.
Now that Smith and Harbaugh are building a trusting relationship, they can start stretching out the defense with a deep-threat attack.
All of these players, with the exception of Jacobs, are star quality pros who trust and can work with Smith. Receiver familiarity with players like Davis and Crabtree will be a great advantage to Smith and his confidence. In addition, this trusting team work will reduce mistakes connected with throwing to new receivers.
Lucky for Smith, with a solid O-line in front of him even the new starting offensive talent coming to San Francisco like Mario Manningham is a seasoned NFL pro. Bottom line, the 49ers don’t look to be putting rookies in the starting lineup for the first few games of the season, so Smith won’t have to worry about throwing to untested talent.
After a shoulder injury in 2007, Alex Smith’s throwing mechanics started to deteriorate as well. Smith looked to be throwing with just his arm, which is a weak and ineffective power source.
In order to continue on his path to being an elite quarterback, Smith worked closely with pitching coach Tom House (who has also worked with Drew Brees and Tom Brady) to unlock his legs and generate more power. After working with House, Smith has unlocked his knee, which allows him to create more momentum in the pass.
Finally, Smith seems to finally be getting a better turn in his throws, which is probably a result of squaring off his shoulders.
With Smith’s engine firing on all cylinders, there's no reason why he can’t throw for another thousand extra yards in 2012 and maybe even help advance the 49ers into their first Super Bowl in almost 20 years.