Less than six months ago, Alex Smith, San Francisco’s first overall draft choice from 2005, had been beaten out for the 49ers’ starting quarterback spot by career journeyman Shaun Hill.
After two straight injury-filled seasons, Smith’s future as an NFL starter seemed incredibly bleak after losing the quarterback competition in training camp.
Two weeks later in Houston, the Hill-led offense was only able to muster 54 yards of offense in the first half and the 49ers were down 21-0 at halftime.
With nothing working offensively, head coach Mike Singletary elected to put Smith in the game to try and change things up.
The 49ers may have lost the game, but three touchdown passes to Vernon Davis later and the 49ers managed to turn a 21-0 deficit into a three point loss, 24-21.
While Davis was the beneficiary of three touchdown catches, don’t think for a second the presence of Michael Crabtree wasn’t just as critical to Smith’s impressive showing against the Texans.
Three of Crabtree’s five receptions and 34 of his 56 yards receiving came in the second half with Smith under center. And the impact the rookie made in his first game was undeniable. Davis was able to find open seams in the defense, seemingly at will because Texan defensive backs had to account for yet another weapon in the passing game.
If Crabtree hadn’t been active for his first game, Smith might not have seen the field for the second half and who knows how much time he would have seen the rest of the season, if any.
Had the 10th overall pick of the 2009 draft held out any longer, the chances he would have been able to make as big of impact as he did, decrease dramatically.
But the former Texas Tech star signed and got into the lineup right when they needed him most. His ability to stretch the field and make plays in the passing game enabled the 49ers coaching staff to make the decision to go with the more athletic quarterback.
And while the verdict is still out on whether Alex Smith has what it takes to be a consistent difference maker, at least he will now be given an adequate opportunity to showcase his ability (or lack thereof depending on your viewpoint).
By taking Crabtree at No. 10 overall, the 49ers gave Smith the first true No. 1 quality receiver in his career. Up until this past season, the “No. 1″ receivers the 49ers had featured since 2005 were Brandon Lloyd, Antonio Bryant, Darrell Jackson, and Isaac Bruce.
Lloyd has managed just 860 yards and two touchdowns for three different teams over four years since leaving San Francisco; Jackson caught just 12 balls for 190 yards with the Denver Broncos two years ago before being inactive all of last season; and Isaac Bruce is bound to retire after a disappointing 2009 campaign.
While Bryant may have had No. 1 receiving talent, his attitude, and immaturity led him to miss the entire 2007-08 season after being let go just one year after signing a four year, $14 million contract. Reports suggested he clashed with former 49er head coach Mike Nolan but the speeding incident and subsequent resisting of arrest in November of his season with San Francisco also aided his departure.
Therefore, over Smith’s career he had been throwing to receiving corps headlined by an inconsistent Lloyd (who would only make catches if they were of the spectacular variety), a belligerent Bryant, and a washed-up Jackson.
Not exactly the best targets for a young quarterback.
And if the 49ers didn’t have the benefit of a receiver with the talents of Crabtree last season, continued inconsistencies from their No. 1 overall pick would have been nearly unpreventable.
In fact, if Smith had taken over for Hill mid-season without Crabtree in the mix, the 49ers would probably be looking to draft a quarterback in the first round of the upcoming draft.
Without Crabtree, Smith would have been throwing to Josh Morgan as the No. 1 and either Jason Hill/Brandon Jones/Arnaz Battle as No. 2. If that had been the case, would Smith have come even close to completing 60 percent of his passes for 2,300 yards and 18 touchdowns in 10-and-a-half games?
Probably not. And consequently the 49ers would most likely be looking to draft another quarterback.
But Smith’s improvement has given San Francisco some stability at the quarterback position for the time being and allowed the organization to address more critical needs in the upcoming draft.
As for next season, continued development from Smith will be a must if he wants to return in 2011.
And while nobody knows for certain whether Smith will be able to go on to have a successful career, at least one thing is certain: Crabtree’s presence has made it possible.
The author originally posted this article for Nfltouchdown.com: http://www.nfltouchdown.com/why-michael-crabtrees-presence-has-made-alex-smiths-resurrection-possible/