Alex Smith has in some ways become a sympathetic figure.
To some, he's the good-guy quarterback trying his best to overcome odds stacked against him by fate and an unstable San Francisco 49ers organization.
To others, he's the quarterback for which too many excuses have already been made, a player whose time has passed.
The gap between those disparate stances could be closing. That was something Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. and I discussed over the phone Wednesday. Williamson had been high on Smith's chances before the regular season, but he's having second thoughts:
I still think there are some fundamental flaws in that offense. He has some fundamental flaws, too. He just doesn’t throw the football very well and he doesn’t have the guts to let it go. They're always going to have to manufacture offense, making it quarterback-friendly. He wants to operate out of spread and everyone else is more suited to the I-formation with a fullback and run it first. He isn’t good enough to be a Tom Brady spread quarterback. In the end, I don’t think the answer is there.
I’m not willing to flush the guy. He shows up a lot. If I had to grade all the players in the league, Alex Smith would be as difficult a grade to give as any. There are so many reasons he has not been successful. Numerous coordinators, schemes, injuries. For the majority of his career, a very poor supporting cast. He comes from the spread offense at Utah. But in the end, are those just all excuses and he just isn't good enough? I’m starting to think that is more the answer. You cannot keep losing football games. When the going gets tough, they lose. The head coach and team leadership has something to do with it. But the quarterback has a lot to do with it.
I agree with that evaluation in every way. But what should the 49ers do about it? They're pretty much stuck. Eleven games of David Carr isn't the answer. Coach Mike Singletary knows this and once players talked him out of making an emotional decision to bench Smith against Philadelphia, Singletary made the more rational call.
On a side note, Mark Kreidler's piece for ESPN.com suggests 49ers players have chosen Smith over Singletary. The kicker: "It is more instructive that with Singletary supposedly already having decided to bring Carr into the game, Smith's teammates wouldn't let him come out. If it wasn't exactly a repudiation of Singletary, who himself has supported Smith through some terrible performances this season, it was at least a cause for wonder. In a moment of choice, the players went with the teammate over the coach. If they trust Smith's judgment over Singletary's, you've got your San Francisco problem in a nutshell."