At the conclusion of the 2004 NFL season, the San Francisco 49ers held a record of 2-14 and were rewarded with the No. 1 overall draft choice in the following draft.
While they needed a quarterback and selected one in Alex Smith, the rest of the squad was still in need of dramatic repairs.
Their best receiver, Terrell Owens, was traded over the prior offseason, the offensive line was in shambles, the secondary was led by Ahmed Plummer and Mike Rumph, and Mike Nolan was in his first year as an NFL ahead coach.
Furthermore, promising young running back Kevan Barlow plummeted in 2004 and 2005 after being handed the No. 1 tailback role when fan favorite Garrison Hearst was let go.
Plus, you have to factor in that Alex Smith’s first offensive coordinator was Mike McCarthy.
Now while McCarthy has gone on to a fair amount of success as the Green Bay Packers head coach, the 49ers picked him up after he was the New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator. And we are talking pre-Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Marques Colston New Orleans Saints.
Not exactly an offensive genius in Mike McCarthy.
All things considered, the 2005 49ers were not set up for success. And as we all know, the years following have been a roller coaster ride for Smith and the rest of the team.
After a 4-12 finish in 2005, Smith showed strides in 2006 and a promising 7-9 finish gave the team high hopes going into 2007. Unfortunately injuries and a feud between Smith and Nolan were the story of a disappointing 5-11 finish in the third year under the new regime.
When 2008 rolled around, Smith would be injured again, missing the entire year with a shoulder injury. Journeyman quarterback J.T. O’ Sullivan fell apart; the team fell to 2-7 and fired their head coach. With Nolan gone, assistant head coach Mike Singletary took over and fan favorite (in backup quarterback) Shaun Hill turned the 49ers year around with a 5-2 finish in the remaining seven games.
Singletary was then rewarded with the full-time gig, and the 49ers again opened the season with increased expectations. Hill remained at quarterback as San Francisco got off to a hot 3-1 start but then fell apart in the next few games and Smith won back the starting job.
While Smith wasn’t nearly good enough to take San Francisco to the postseason, he did enough for the 49ers organization to once again believe he can be the franchise quarterback.
And the way the new look front office handled the recently concluded 2010 NFL Draft, Singletary and the 49ers didn’t deviate from their belief in Alex Smith as potential Super Bowl winning quarterback.
Not only did they pass on drafting a single quarterback, but they also passed up drafting any highly touted college prospects at the skill positions on offense.
Instead, they gave their quarterback what every signal caller needs to succeed: BIG, BAD (MEAN), STRONG offensive lineman.
With two first round draft choices, the 49ers took offensive tackle Anthony Davis out of Rutgers at No. 13 overall and guard Mike Iupati out of Idaho at No. 17.
By taking two offensive linemen in the first round, the 49ers made a large statement (both literally and figuratively).
Literally meaning they improved an area in which they felt they were lacking size and strength and by doing so, they figuratively stated that Alex Smith is the quarterback that will take eventually lead them to the promise land.
But it wasn’t just the first round where this held true. Instead of going after offensive weapons such as Stanford’s Toby Gerhardt, Mississippi’s Dexter McCluster or Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, the 49ers went defense in the middle rounds.
In the second round they added safety help with USC safety Taylor Mays and in the third round picked up outside linebacker Navorro Bowman out of Penn State.
Both positions were in need of extra depth, especially at safety with Michael Lewis clearly on the last legs of his career.
So once again the 49ers had a chance to add more weapons around Smith to make him better but went elsewhere.
By going strictly offensive line and defense through the first two days of the draft, the 49ers continued to show the faith that Smith is their guy.
And it is clearer now than ever before that the 49ers feel that when given time to throw, Smith has the tools to lead the team to the Super Bowl.
The front office obviously feels comfortable with the talent they already have at the skill positions and believe that with an improved offensive line, the offense is capable of becoming a top-10 caliber unit.
After all, San Francisco didn’t draft a player at an offensive skill position until they took Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon in the sixth round.
Now only time will tell if putting faith in Alex Smith was the right way to go for the 49ers, but at least for now, the Red & Gold have are all systems go in their march towards their first playoff birth in eighth seasons.
And unlike many NFL teams, the 49ers have the talent and chemistry to make that happen.
We will all have to wait and see if 2010 will finally be the year the 49ers get back to the playoffs, but having the same offensive coordinator in back to back seasons should give fans some extra hope.
The last offensive coordinator to spend multiple seasons with the team in that capacity was Greg Knapp and the 49ers made the postseason in two of the three seasons under his offense.
And the continuity of having Jimmy Raye back for a second season might just be the difference for Alex Smith this season.
As Urban Meyer, Smith’s college coach and two-time National Champion head coach at Florida famously stated, “until he [Smith] understands it [an offensive system], he is nonfunctional…..[but once he does understand it] he becomes a dynamite player.”
The entire 49er fan base hopes Meyer was right.
Either way, one thing is for certain:
2010 will be the year we find out the accuracy of Meyer’s words and the fate of Alex Smith’s career as a 49er.
This article was originally published on Nfltouchdown.com and can been seen here:
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