Over the years, Alex Smith has been called a flop and a failure.
Critics in the media and in the stands have taken shots at him for everything from having small hands to being too nervous in the pocket.
San Francisco Chronicle columnist Scott Ostler once listed Smith as one of the greatest flops in Bay Area sports history, given his draft status and performance – though he noted the 49ers organization as a whole put him in prime position to fail by giving him “a phenomenal non-supporting cast.”
Yet as San Francisco prepares to begin its regular season Sept. 11, Smith will again be the team’s starting quarterback.
The former No. 1 overall selection in the 2005 NFL Draft, who signed a one-year deal to return to the Niners this summer, cemented his hold on the job with a solid performance Thursday night against the Chargers in the final exhibition game. Smith was 8-of-10 for 45 yards and led his team to two touchdowns in his one quarter of action.
When reporters asked head coach Jim Harbaugh after the game if Smith had locked up the starting spot, Harbaugh said: “I’m pretty sure we can say that. … He played with a very cool head and made good decisions. He played the way you want him to out there – calm, cool, collected.”
Harbaugh, in fact, has been a Smith fan since he joined the organization. Despite playing for several coaches and offensive coordinators since he was drafted out of Utah, Smith has been dogged in his work ethic. In the offseason, Harbaugh was impressed by Smith’s leadership as the QB ran the team’s “Camp Alex” practices during the lockout.
In camp, Harbaugh has praised Smith’s performance and quick pick-up of the newly installed West Coast offense.
Harbaugh said the criticism of Smith has been unfair, calling it some of it “vicious,” but was impressed how Smith failed to let it get him down.
“Alex has thick skin,” Harbaugh said. “He’s got skin like an armadillo, this guy.”
Now, it’s a new chapter in the Smith-49er book. Will it be a happier tale?
Harbaugh has faith it will. Thursday, speaking on a San Diego radio station, Harbaugh answered “yes” when asked if Smith can develop into a good NFL quarterback.
“There have been some tough times, but all those experiences I believe lead to success,” Harbaugh said.