San Francisco 49ers QB Update: Alex Smith Needs Competition to Win over Fans

Brandon McClintock@@BMcClintock_BSNCorrespondent IApril 14, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 2:  Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers passes against the Arizona Cardinals during an NFL game at Candlestick Park on January 2, 2011 in San Francisco, California.(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The Sacramento Bee's Matt Barrows has reported that prior to the NFL lockout, the San Francisco 49ers made a one year offer to Alex Smith to return to compete for the starting quarterback position.

No deal can be completed until the current lockout ends, so the 49ers and new coach Jim Harbaugh can not comment on the accuracy of this report.

San Francisco's need for a quarterback has been no secret since the final game of the season. Most of the draft coverage the team has received, from myself included, has focused on their scouting of quarterback prospects.

The Niners, in fact, seem to be set to use their second or third round draft pick on a future franchise quarterback. Colin Kaepernick, Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton all regularly come up in draft talk as potential targets for San Francisco in the second round—or late first round if they decide to trade back in the draft.

Speculation has been tossed around frequently about potential veteran targets that could be acquired to help mentor any young QB that is drafted, and fill the position for a year or two while new coach, Jim Harbaugh, molds the chosen draftee into our franchise QB.

Names such as Donovan McNabb, Matt Hasselbeck, Josh Johnson, Kevin Kolb and many others have been tossed out, and of course, so has Alex Smith.

While I am not an Alex Smith supporter or apologist, I admit that I fall into the camp that wants to see what he is capable of with a head coach who knows how to handle a quarterback.

I also have to admit that I question why Smith would want to return to San Francisco. As Barrows points out in his article, Smith is not popular with the fans, who booed his every incompletion at points during this past season.

Barrows writes, "I asked Harbaugh on Tuesday whether Smith could ever truly succeed in San Francisco if even mere incompletions are met with boos as was the case in the 2010 regular-season finale against the Cardinals."

Harbaugh reportedly responded by making a comparison to how thick skinned a player must be, "baby dear skin" or "armadillo skin", stating that Smith has armadillo skin.

"He's a tough son of a gun," Harbaugh told Barrows. "I watched four really solid years of every snap the guy took—getting hit in the pocket, picking himself back up, playing under adversity, fierce competitor. I don't think (booing) will affect the guy."

Perhaps Smith can handle the booing—he did lead one of his most impressive drives of the season after the Candlestick crowd rained down ferocious boos on him last year against the Philadelphia Eagles, and again against the Seattle Seahawks later in the season.

I understand why Smith might be open to returning to San Francisco now that Harbaugh is the coach. Smith will be a hot commodity if free agency resumes in time for next season, but he will not find a better opportunity to remain an NFL starter than with the 49ers.

What will Alex need to do to win over the 49er faithful though?

I don't believe simply leading the team to the playoffs will be enough to win-over a fan base that has grown tired of his inconsistent and often underwhelming play throughout his career. Last season the expectation was to reach the playoffs by winning the weak NFC West.

It didn't happen.

We all know the excuses and rationalizations for his prior failures, but last season was supposed to be the "final chance."

I'm willing to give him a final "final chance" this season, but Smith needs to win the job against real competition prior to the start of the season.

I'm not sure how the 49ers can accomplish this if the lockout is not ended with enough time for teams to engage in trades and free agency, but it must be done.

Alex Smith needs to win the job outright against real competition and he needs to do so by a decisive margin. No more so-called competitions with the likes of David Carr and Troy Smith.

Alex Smith is still young after all at only 27 years old at the start of the upcoming season. He could yet wind up to be one of the NFL's late bloomers and have a decent career. When Smith has been good, he has been very good. The problem has been that those moments are few and far between and he is more often than not bad.

He definitely has several serviceable years remaining if he can find some consistency with his game.

The 49ers still need to acquire the likes of a Matt Hasselbeck or Donovan McNabb to compete with Alex Smith for the starting position, while the draftee learns the ropes in a third-string role.

If Smith beats out the other veteran for the starting job, great, then the real test begins and real expectations get placed on him.

If he loses, then he either becomes our backup and looks forward to the day when Candlestick will chant "We want Alex, we want Alex" like they did last season when the fans practically begged Mike Singletary to replace Smith on the field against the Eagles.

So my vote for Alex Smith returning to the 49ers in 2011 is a reluctant yes.

Assuming he earns the position to start the season, a deep run into the playoffs, however realistic or not that is, will determine whether he earns my vote for another year beyond that.

I have to believe I am not alone in that regard.