Smith had to work with multiple offensive coordinators, a new system almost every year and two head coaches in Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary who knew nothing about offensive football. I take that back—under Nolan and Singletary, the 49ers' offense was downright offensive.
Enter Jim Harbaugh. Following the 2010 season, the 49ers finally struck gold with their head coaching selection. Harbaugh was hired and one of the first items on his agenda was finding out whether Smith could be his quarterback.
After meeting with Smith, Harbaugh determined that he could indeed work with him ans Smith could become a solid NFL quarterback. Amazingly, Smith was able to put all of his detractors in the rear-view mirror and move forward with Harbaugh on a clean slate.
Smith and Harbaugh worked very closely together and Smith flourished under the tutelage of the former quarterback, who spent 14 years in the NFL. Harbaugh spoon fed Smith, bringing him along very slowly, which was especially important because the lockout had eliminated the majority of training camp.
Smith had his best year as a pro and actually looked like he might have a decent future in the NFL. He completed 273 of his 445 pass attempts, good for a career-best 61.3 clip. Smith's 3,144 yards was also a career-high.
The most impressive thing that Harbaugh and Smith were able to accomplish in 2011 was ball security. In prior seasons, it seemed Smith would always make the key mistake or turnover that would cost the 49ers the game. With Harbaugh tutoring Smith, this all changed in 2011.
One of the keys to the 49ers' success in 2011 was the fact that Smith threw only five interceptions, while completing 17 touchdown passes. That ratio was tops in the league.
The 49ers' strong special teams and stellar defense were called upon to keep the opposition off the scoreboard and win the battle for field position. More often than not, they did just that. This enabled the 49ers' offense to play low-risk football and Smith learned the lesson of ball-security very well.
Heading into 2012, the 49ers made significant upgrades to their offense. They added Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs as free agents. Then they selected A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James with their first two selections in the draft.
The 49ers' offense should be much more explosive this year, which will mean Smith will take more chances down the field. Smith will need to improve his ability to deliver the ball downfield.
In the offseason he worked with former Major League pitcher Tom House, who now specializes on helping athletes with their throwing mechanics. In training camp Smith has shown much better accuracy, and if he can carry this over to the games that count, it will bode very well for the 49ers.
Smith has a very good understanding of Harbaugh's offensive system. He has shown excellent leadership and command on the field. Harbaugh has commended Smith for his work ethic and the leadership he has displayed.
Smith's college coach Urban Meyer had previously stated that Smith will only do well when he fully understands the system he is playing in. In his first six NFL seasons those systems were in a constant state of flux. Smith looked lost out on the field.
Now, under Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, that has all changed. Smith is displaying a mature, confident presence on the field. When he plays with decisive confidence, he is a far better quarterback. Under Harbaugh, Smith has learned how to play in this manner.
Harbaugh deserves a great deal of credit for the development of Smith. Harbaugh understands Smith and the pair should continue to succeed in 2012. Smith is poised to take another positive step in his career and I believe he will do it. If he can continue on this path of improvement, the 49ers could be the next Super Bowl champions.
I am definitely "buying" Alex Smith as a reliable NFL quarterback.