An unexpected development is making things interesting in the 49ers' latest batch of Organized Team Activities. That unexpected development is Alex Smith actually playing like a guy worthy of the number one overall pick.
Several eyewitness accounts agree that Smith has looked like the better quarterback in these early June OTA's. And the big cheeses at 49ers HQ are beginning to notice. Scot McLoughan told Matt Maiocco of the Press Democrat that this is the best he's seen Smith play in four seasons. "You see more confidence,” McCloughan said of Smith's current off-season performance. “The players have to see it, too, to be a leader at that position.”
Maiocco seconds the opinion that Smith's game is much improved, and Cam Inman says the same in the Mercury News. "From the first day Smith practiced this offseason, his passes indeed have looked surprisingly stellar, both in terms of velocity and accuracy," writes Inman. "More important, his throwing shoulder hasn't been a problem."
It's been forever since the adverb-adjective combo of "surprisingly stellar" has been used to describe any aspect of Alex Smith except maybe his salary.
And if this makes you go hmmmm, Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee notes that Smith practiced today with the first team.
The book on Shaun Hill is that he's a better game day quarterback than a practice quarterback, so the arrival of the preseason may once again establish Hill as the top dog. But it's interesting that Smith's game has been up and down, considering that he's had a different coordinator every year. Smith was sharp that one year under Norv Turner. Jimmie Raye II doesn't have Turner's credentials, but he may be one of those coordinators under whom Smith does click. Mike Martz was definitely not one of those coordinators.
This may herald a new phase of the 49ers quarterback competition, wherein Singletary and Raye have the luxury of evaluating which guy offers more, as opposed to which one screws up less. If this isn't just a June mirage, if Alex Smith has hit the point where he's realizing his 2005-era hype, then these Niners could be a lot closer to contending than any of us expected.
Joe Kukura is a freelance writer who has to admit that actually a lot of commenters have been saying all along that the 49ers are totally going to contend this year.