By Michael Morris
The San Francisco 49ers’ draft wasn’t sexy but they were able focus on an area that warranted attention. Quarterback protection has been a struggle for the 49ers recently and with additions of Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati, the 49ers will be able to get a better idea of what Alex Smith can or can’t do. (The following words may not be suitable for viewers under eighteen.)
“With the first pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers select Alex Smith.”
It seems as though every year is the year where 49ers fans and football minds alike give the former Utah quarterback a chance to prove himself worthy of that number one pick. A draft in which 28 Pro Bowler’s were drafted or signed after going undrafted behind him. Smith has shown sparks of potential but sparks are not what will keep you in this league. With another year under offensive-coordinator Jimmy Raye, it has come time for Smith to prove himself and if he fails to impress this season; his journey with the 49ers may be over before he knows it. After the departure of J.T O’Sullivan and Shaun Hill, the quarterback depth took a hit, so the 49ers went out and signed well-traveled quarterback, David Carr.
“I think the biggest thing is just the similarities in them both being the first pick, both having a tough time really getting their career started,” said Coach Singletary. “From that standpoint I think there (are) a lot of common issues that they can talk about. In terms of the other, I just think that David Carr is a quiet, confident guy that’s continuing to grow in our system, and I’m sure that Alex can talk to him about some of the bumps along the way that are still in front of him.”
One of those Pro Bowler’s selected behind Smith in 2005 was Frank Gore.
Gore, who was taken with the first pick in the third round and hasn’t slowed down since taking over for Kevan Barlow in the latter part of the 2005 season. Although he has battled with injuries, Gore has averaged over 4.2 yards per carry, recorded 32 touchdowns, and rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of the past four seasons.
Smith and Gore have been the only constant with the 49ers since 2005 and if Smith doesn’t improve, Gore and the 49ers may move on without him.
Last year the 49ers selected Michael Crabtree with their first-round pick. Although agreeing on a deal wasn’t as easy as they would have hoped. Crabtree was able to catch 48 balls in just 11 games. A year under his belt and a full helping of games should lead to a stronger year out of the 49ers offense.
On the other side of the ball the 49ers have shown substantial improvement going from lower tier embarrassment to one of the superior defenses in the league. Last season they allowed only 17.6 points per game, the fourth best in the league. That turnaround is thanks to Coach Mike Singletary and the about-face he has willed upon his team.
Defensive anchor, Patrick Willis may have found the Dave Duerson to his Mike Singletary. The 49ers were able to draft Taylor Mays with their No. 49 selection, a pick nobody with the 49ers expected him to be at.
“I think when you look at the film and you see the guy, he’s back 20 yards, it’s pretty amazing,” Coach Singletary said. “When he came in and we had him for the interview there were just some things that he was just not asked to do. Sometimes, I think as coaches, you assume that they can’t do it. But I’m excited about him. Anytime you find a guy that has the intangibles that he does, just the ability to move and being able to have the range that he has…He wants to be a great football player, and he wants to be a 49er. That’s really huge and I’m very excited about that.”
Singletary and the 49ers were forced to handle some issues recently, with the early retirement of Glen Coffee and the distraction that was Kentwan Balmer, the 49ers look to leave that stuff behind them and focus on the season. Balmer, who was drafted with a late first-round pick two years ago, was traded within the division to the Seattle Seahawks for a sixth-round pick. Brian Westbrook has dealt with injuries the last few years but will find himself filling in for the newly retired Coffee.
With a solid defense and the weapons in place, the 49ers should be able to find themselves a playoff spot for the first time in eight years. If Smith is unable turn those sparks into flames, he may find himself smoking on the sidelines. Or maybe he’ll be sippin’ on some ‘purple drank’ with JaMarcus.