The San Francisco 49ers made the tough decision to go with Colin Kaepernick under center for the second half of last season, but Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs will prove to his former team on Friday night that he is a franchise quarterback.
The move to go forward with Kaepernick was one that obviously led the team to new heights, as the Niners finished 11-4-1 en route to a Super Bowl matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. Sure, the game didn't end the way head coach Jim Harbaugh would have liked, but the future seems bright with Kaepernick calling the shots.
Giving up on Smith likely wasn't an easy decision for Harbaugh, especially after the year he put together in 2011. The University of Utah product tossed 17 touchdowns compared to just five interceptions, while also throwing for a career-high 3,144 yards. After so many seasons of middling in mediocrity, Smith finally put it together in 2011.
Things started well for Smith in 2012, as the team went 6-2-1 in games he started. His passing efficiency was at an all-time high (70.2 percent), but the team lacked the offensive potency that would carry them to the next level.
Long story short, Kaepernick gave the team what Smith couldn't—explosiveness.
Fast forward to this past offseason, and Smith has a new address in Kansas City. He will look to team up with new head coach Andy Reid and turn the Chiefs back into the consistent winners they were in the early-90s.
During the preseason matchup between the two squads on Friday night, Smith will prove to his old head coach that it may have been too early to give up on him. He has young, explosive weapons in Dwayne Bowe, Jon Baldwin and Jamaal Charles (even though Charles could miss the game with a foot strain) and will use them in 2013 to get the Chiefs franchise back on track.
The Niners defense is certainly excited to face off against their former quarterback. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman told Janie McCauley of the Associated Press of his excitement heading into the matchup:
We never got a chance to hit him. This time we can. We’re looking forward to it. I know Alex knows we’re coming. It’s football, man. He’s on another team and we have to go out there and play our game.
Smith could very well use this opportunity to exploit the San Francisco defense.
While his former teammates are rushing into the backfield in an eager attempt to knock him down, he should be able to stand tall in the pocket and execute passes over the middle to Bowe, Baldwin or tight end Anthony Fasano. He did just that in the 2012 playoffs against the New Orleans Saints.
Despite never putting up gaudy numbers, Smith has always been patient in the pocket and has displayed good poise in recent years. Even though it's just a preseason matchup, Smith will play it like it's the regular season and look to capitalize on a possibly over-aggressive defense.
Cornerback Carlos Rogers seems to be thinking the same way. Via McCauley, "He's going to want to go at our defense because now he gets the opportunity," he said.
Say, for instance, Rogers blitzes off the corner and coverage of Bowe shifts to a linebacker like Bowman or a lesser corner like Chris Culliver. Seeing as Bowe has both a height and speed advantage over these defenders, Smith should look for his receiver over the middle for easy yardage. He's always been known as a game-manager, but now is the time for him to take that next step in his development and make defenses pay for their mistakes.
If Smith can string together a couple of quality scoring drives against a defense that will likely rank amongst the top teams in the NFL, then he will have proved his point. Playing with a vengeance, Smith will be on target with his passes.
Capitalizing on aggressive defenses by standing tall in the pocket and looking for open receivers 10 or so yards down the field is what separates good quarterbacks from great quarterbacks, and Smith will look to prove he's the latter when he takes on the Niners at 8:00 PM ET on Friday.