That is always the question.
I am not going to sit here and shell out Nostradamus predictions. Rather, I will give reasons why I believe that Alex Smith is not only going to have a breakout year but that he will eventually wind up close to being a top 10 quarterback in the National Football League.
The main thing that so-called "Alex haters" always claim is that Alex Smith is a bad decision-maker. It rarely has to do with mechanics (although he needs work there, too) as much as it has to do with him being a bit short on the instinctive side of things.
However, there is context to be considered here. A lot of context.
We've seen people hate on 49ers quarterbacks in history. Both John Brodie and Steve Young were booed heavily at times during the early part of their careers for San Francisco.
In some sense, I feel the same disrespect is being displayed toward Alex Smith, who has never really had a fair shake.
We don't have much to weigh in on what has transpired in preseason up to this point. In their game against the Saints, the 49ers were just flat-out unprepared.They had not had much time to prepare up to that point, and it showed.
In the Raiders game, things looked good and Alex looked comfortable, but it was preseason and the Raiders were not at mid-season form.
Earlier in the week, coach Jim Harbaugh mentioned that the 49ers would take the same approach as most of the other teams in the NFL in Week 3 of the preseason and play the starters for a majority of the game. But just a couple of days ago, Harbaugh switched it up and said that the twos and threes would be getting mixed in with the ones.
On the surface, it appears that Harbaugh is more concerned with getting the right guys on the team as opposed to winning a meaningless game.
In regards to the quarterback position, Harbaugh sounded like both Smith and backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick would be splitting time with the first-team offensive unit. He then went further, saying he wanted to see Josh McCown and McLeod Bethel-Thompson (a.k.a. McBLT) in the game, as well.
But he has said that before and not followed though, so we'll see if that holds true. He's definitely a coach that likes to keep everyone guessing, which can only be good in terms of an advantage point.
This game will be more important for Alex because he is now really going to be competing in a real-game situation against Kaepernick. Whoever looks like they should be the starter will wind up being the starter.
However, it's my opinion that Smith has a clear advantage at this point. He is after all, an expert at learning playbooks at this point in his career.
What Alex Smith really needs to focus on is his pre-snap reads. He has to get better at dissecting defenses before the snap.
Harbaugh ran an insane amount of motion plays while at Stanford to get the defense to try and tip their hand. This is one of the many reasons why Alex Smith will be better this year. It will help him in an area in which he has been relatively weak at in the past.
Smith has shown signs of flashing first-round talent. For those who look at him and all the situations he has been through can clearly see it at times. However, it has not been consistent enough. Not nearly close.
The 49ers have not had an offensive-minded head coach in nearly a decade now. This in and of itself could help Smith, as well.
In watching several interviews with the former 2005 number one overall selection, it appears that he has a spark in his eye when he talks to the media. For the first time in his career, he is very upbeat and almost giddy at this opportunity.
Confidence is the key-component here for Alex. He has to undo all the damage impressed upon him by previous regimes and totally forget about them, especially from the Nolan and Singletary era.
He needs to go into this season with the mindset of a rookie, but with the knowledge and advantages a veteran would have.
Joe Montana was interviewed yesterday by the San Francisco Chronicle and was asked about the 49ers quarterback position. He made it sound very simple in saying that the main thing for a quarterback in this offense is to act like an NBA point guard and just get the ball to his play-makers on shorter passes, and to just keep moving the ball.
As simple as it sounds, Smith has had trouble with accuracy. But accuracy can be fixed to a certain level and Smith is not beyond help there. He is still fixable.
Footwork, mechanics, reads, and knowledge can all help Alex Smith develop into a top-10 NFL quarterback, or at least get him close. Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman have been working diligently to help Alex fix the issues that he has developed over the past 5-6 seasons.
I believe in that Smith will not only be the starter, but he will indeed get a contract extension and excel as a San Francisco 49er just as John Brodie (two-time Pro-Bowler) and Steve Young (seven-time Pro-Bowler) did in the years after they were booed.
I don't think that Smith has the makings of a Steve Young, but I feel that he can fall somewhere in between the two aforementioned quarterbacks once it is all said and done.
I honestly believe that Alex Smith has Pro Bowl potential... and not in a Derek Anderson type of way. I believe that Harbaugh will bring out the best in him, and he will play close to what was expected of him when he was drafted in the first round of the 2005 draft... finally.