Alex Smith: What to Make of Saga Surrounding San Francisco 49ers Quarterback

Eli NachmanyCorrespondent IIIJuly 7, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22:  Quarterback Alex Smith #11 and head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers talk against the New York Giants during the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park on January 22, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It's not as though Alex Smith threw too many interceptions last season or cost his 49ers a shot at glory in 2011.

Rather, it's just the opposite.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith had a very good season in 2011, throwing 17 touchdowns to just five interceptions and leading his 49er squad to an NFC West title. For Smith's critics, it wasn't nearly enough.

Smith endured a wide range of criticism in 2011 despite his growth into a capable starting quarterback, ranging from questions about his ability to be any more than a game manager to his issues on third down and in the red zone.

The drama around Smith intensified when the 49ers were rumored to be going after marquee free agent Peyton Manning. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has since refuted such rumors, but Smith is still content to use it as motivation.

If anything, Smith has become a more vocal presence over the last few months, which is something that fans are not used to seeing from the quarterback. After a good season, Smith has a right to talk more than he has in the past.

The quarterback called out fellow signal-caller Cam Newton in saying that passing yardage doesn't equate to wins. While most reviews of Smith's comments were negative, I applaud the player for finally speaking up and being confident about his play.

Quarterbacks like Eli Manning and Joe Flacco have publicly proclaimed that they consider themselves elite and they've backed it up, too. There's nothing wrong with Smith, another quarterback who made it to the Conference Championship, speaking up about himself and his game.

Harbaugh showed that he has faith in Smith, adding veteran receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, while taking fliers on playmakers AJ Jenkins and LaMichael James in the draft.

Considering that the 49ers will have a high-powered offense on paper next year, it's up to Smith to translate the team's talent and athleticism to wins on the gridiron.

Behind a strong running game with Frank Gore and Brandon Jacobs, look for Smith to have a high number of opportunities to make plays and get the ball to players in space. It's up to this quarterback to make the right reads and throws.

After a good 2011, look for Alex Smith to gain more of Jim Harbaugh's trust in 2012 and watch as the second-year head coach opens up the offense for his quarterback.

Should Smith be able to build on his success last year, the sky is the limit for a much-improved 49ers team that returns all of their starters on one of the league's best defenses.