San Francisco 49ers

The Demise of Alex Smith

In the name of Tim Couch, what has happened to Alex Smith? If you take a closer look, past the recent shoulder injury, past the loss of his starting job, and even past now being labeled as a bust, you have to ask yourself, how the heck did we get here?

The truth is, the blame cannot and should not be put squarely on Alex Smith’s shoulders. As the number one overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft, Smith entered the league with as much hype as any quarterback in recent memory, only to throw one touchdown to 11 interceptions.

This less than desirable outcome had the San Francisco front office shaking their heads, wondering if they had made the right decision. Then came signs of progress in year two, with Smith posting admirable sophomore numbers, throwing for 16 touchdowns and almost 3,000 yards.

But now two years later, all we can remember is Smith as the underachieving, athletic quarterback who could never grasp the system, find his receivers, and realize his potential.

But therein lies the problem: the system.
Smith was set up for failure from day one, by having a different offensive coordinator in each of his four seasons in the league. This inconsistent base of schemes, coaching, and talent around him ultimately led to his own inconsistent play, lack of confidence, and even spats with head coach Mike Nolan.

Clearly, that has been overlooked. Instead of getting the guidance and support a number one pick should, Smith was used by Nolan as the scapegoat and kicked to the curb in favor of two other guys who went undrafted.

Shaun Hill and J.T. O’Sullivan, not Alex Smith, were the front-runners for the 2008 starting quarterback position. And what had Smith done to deserve such a lack of backing by his front office and coaches? He had done nothing but respond to their direction for three years, try his hardest to adapt to new scheme after new scheme, and despite progression, each year brought change and an inevitable drop in his play.

Looking back at the 2005 draft, where Aaron Rodgers dropped to the 24th pick, it’s disturbing how it all worked out. The guy that sat behind the biggest icon in the league worked his way into the starting line-up by forcing Brett Favre out, and Smith was stuck backing up a guy who was only on the team because he had a heads-up on the offense.

In the Bay area, the land of “If you’re not Montana or Young, then get out”, Smith never really stood a chance. All that athleticism, all that potential, poise, and confidence-it meant nothing.

A once promising career is ending before it could even begin, and why? Because Mike Nolan wants to save his own neck. While it remains to be determined if he will succeed in doing so, one thing he is succeeding at is for certain: He isn’t winning games, and he’s ruined Alex Smith’s career.

If anyone has been troubled by the recent Vince Young story, look no further than Smith’s timeline to tell you why Young’s state of mind is the way it is. It’s not just poor play that can cripple a player; it sometimes is the people around them.

2 replies on “The Demise of Alex Smith”

I thought that Smith was way overrated going into that draft. He was a mid-rounder at best. His success came at Utah in Urban Meyer’s spread offense. He was a typical great college player, but I never thought that would carry over into a good NFL career. And the 49ers made a horrible mistake in taking him first.

I agree that having new coordinators and schemes every year can hurt a player’s development, but it’s a very common occurence in the NFL and the bottom line is that you have to perform well regardless. Smith was given ample opportunites -too many- to win and he just didn’t. Bust City.

Excuse me? I’m a big 49ers fan (great win today at Seattle by the way) and follow them religiously. Alex Smith was a bit overhyped going into the draft, but not THAT much. He was and still is a good, athletic, smart player. But as the article mentions, what can you do with a shoddy offensive line, a different system every year, and a difficult coach, all when you’re just a youngster trying to revive the most successful NFL franchise in history? Smith didn’t play up to his potential most of the time, but not because he was bad. The aformentioned problems started it, and it just went downhill…unless he WAS Joe Montana, Smith could not have stepped into that kind of situation and succeeded and that’s not his fault. When he gets healthy, I’d love to see him get another shot somewhere, because once he finds a system that stays the same for more than a year and has a line that doesn’t resemble swiss cheese, he WILL succeed. We saw that in his 2nd season…for god’s sake he had a couple games where he looked like Joe Montana!! Any real 49er fans who followed his progress know he can be something special if given the right opportunity. Don’t label him a bust until he’s done for good. In retrospect, we should have taken Aaron Rodgers. Oh well, shit happens. Rodgers would have had the same exact experience in San Francisco as Smith had, and this whole story would be flip-flopped, as Smith would be leading Green Bay to victories!! Anyways…good article, just one bone to pick: You said in the Bay Area you get run out of town unless you are Joe Montana or Steve Young — Not true at all…We Bay Area 49er fans are nothing like that…we threw our support behind Smith, felt bad for him when it didn’t work out, and now support J.T. O’Sullivan…faith doesn’t waver in the Bay…patience and belief will lead us to victory eventually (on the right track this year, just needs to shore up that O-line a bit!). The End. Go Niners.

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