NFL: 49ers’ Smith passes durability test but not passing test
By Tim Kawakami
San Jose Mercury News
SAN FRANCISCO — As a chase-down tackler, Alex Smith has never been better. As a blocker, Smith was in all-time, all-pile-drive form.
As Joe Smash-mouth, Smith was all over the field Saturday night in his one hurly-burly quarter of exhibition action in the 49ers’ 21-20 victory over the Raiders.
“It shows he’s not afraid,” coach Mike Singletary said of Smith’s one-man wrangling show.
But as a quarterback? That was different.
Put it this way: In back-to-back physical plays when he knocked Raiders defenders to the ground, Smith emphatically proved that his surgically repaired shoulder is sound.
But in the throwing and completing departments, Smith did little to help himself win the 49ers’ starting QB job, which is generally presumed to be Shaun Hill’s to lose.
Any more clarity in the QB competition? “No,” Singletary said. “No.”
Any chance the 49ers name a season starter soon? “Don’t know. Don’t want to get into that.”
Smith’s stat line after playing the entire first quarter: three completions in nine attempts, one interception (high pass tipped up, possibly not his fault), a soggy passer rating of 4.2.
It’s not as if Hill, who played the second quarter, was tons better: 3-for-7 for 20 yards and no interceptions, for a 50.3 rating.
And the 49ers didn’t really need much from their quarterbacks with Glen Coffee running for 129 yards in a little over one quarter of play.
But this deep into the QB derby — Singletary originally planned to name a starter at some point this week — the burden of proof is believed to lie squarely with Smith.
He didn’t present a classic, overwhelming case Saturday, though Smith said he felt pretty sharp.
“You know, last week (against Denver) was better if you look at the numbers, but I felt much better tonight,” Smith said. “I think numbers can be deceiving.”
Maybe he was thinking less about the numbers and more about the back-to-back roughhousing midway through the first quarter.
First came a savage open-field block of defensive end Greg Ellis, who was about to level Arnaz Battle coming around on a reverse.
“As quarterbacks, before the game we were joking before the game — let’s not do anything stupid or anything, it’s preseason,” Smith said.
“A lead block on a reverse? I wasn’t planning on doing anything dumb on that play, but I saw (Ellis) peeling back and it looked like it might be an 8-, 10-yard loss.”
Smith sent Ellis flying sideways, which, as Smith pointed out, is usually the opposite of what usually happens when quarterbacks and defensive ends collide.
“He was a little off-balance, I think,” Smith said. “Could’ve made it look more devastating than it was.”
To memorialize the moment, Smith stood and stared at Ellis for a few seconds, which, again, he was used to witnessing from a far different angle.
“That’s what I see defensive guys doing to me all the time,” Smith said with a smile. “Felt good.”
On the next play, Smith’s pass was intercepted, and Smith sprinted across the field and made a touchdown-saving tackle of Ricky Brown at the 49ers’ 7-yard line.
Not the usual Smith plays, especially not in August.
Singletary said he probably didn’t need or want to see Smith risk his body like that in preseason, especially on the interception tackle.
A few minutes later, Smith was pulled in the middle of what could’ve been his best drive, at the quarter change, with the 49ers having a first-and-10 at the Raiders’ 34 after an 18-yard gain by Coffee.
In came Hill, after 19 offensive snaps for Smith; Singletary said Smith had gotten the number of plays they wanted to see.
And now? Both Singletary and Smith said they need to check the film to properly evaluate the situation.
Next up: The 49ers play in Dallas on Saturday. We don’t know if Singletary will have a decision by then.
But we know that the further this goes without Smith making a giant step, the better he looks as a blocker/tackler, the easier it will be for Shaun Hill to take this job.