Thursday, March 27, 2008
Smith ready to move past problems with injury, coach
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Alex Smith is back in the weight room and on the San Francisco 49ers' practice fields, working to get healthy for an uncertain future with his fourth offensive coordinator in four NFL seasons.
At least the quarterback has resolved his differences with his head coach, he claims. Four months ago, that relationship seemed more damaged than the former No. 1 draft pick's injured shoulder.
Smith spoke publicly Thursday for the first time since undergoing season-ending surgery on his throwing shoulder in mid-December, a dour end to a dismal season that included a prolonged public disagreement with coach Mike Nolan.
"It was such a crazy situation last year," Smith said. "We're both excited to be moving on from it."
Smith claims to be encouraged by the 49ers' latest coaching overhaul, with coordinator Mike Martz arriving and Nolan staying while old coordinator Jim Hostler, quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti and other offensive assistants departed.
Smith and Nolan were on much shakier ground late last year, when the struggling quarterback publicly questioned the 49ers' handling of the shoulder injury that eventually ended his season. Smith also claimed Nolan undermined him in comments to his teammates, and Smith rarely appeared at the 49ers' training complex after his surgery.
"He and I are both looking forward to putting last year behind us," Smith said. "I've talked to him several times and we're both excited about it. I know I definitely am, because I know that's not a reflection on either of us. We're both better than that, and I think we're looking forward to honestly erasing that and proving to people, not only in this building but everywhere, that we're definitely going to move on."
Nolan's coaching staff has the week off and wasn't available for comment.
Smith's arm was in a sling for six weeks after the surgery, and the 49ers have kept his progress on a deliberate pace. Though he's lifting weights on a normal schedule, his three-times-a-week throwing sessions don't last longer than about 80 passes.
"There's definitely not a lot of the clicking and things that were going on before," said Smith, whose strained forearm is no longer a problem. "The main thing is to work out that tightness and stiffness in some areas. ... I still have another month or so to get it where it needs to be, so I'm trying to take my time with it."
The 49ers hope Smith is in shape to participate in their post-draft minicamp in early May, when he'll have to begin the process of winning a starting job for the first time since his rookie season. Shaun Hill, the career third-stringer who won two starts as a late-season replacement for Trent Dilfer, will get a chance to compete with Smith, according to Martz and Nolan.
Martz already has begun installing his high-octane offense for the team that had the NFL's worst attack in two of the last three seasons. Smith is excited about the possibilities, particularly with new receivers Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson to bolster the league's least impressive receiving corps.
Martz has a willing but beleaguered pupil who completed just 48.7 percent of his passes last season for 914 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. When Smith's season ended, his passer rating of 57.2 was the second-lowest among all quarterbacks who qualified for league statistics.
"You just look at the track record [Martz] has had with all his quarterbacks and the way they've played, the numbers they've put up and where they've taken their games," Smith said. "I feel like that's a level I haven't even been at in the NFL, in terms of reaching my potential. ... It's definitely different, but I guess that's the one thing I've grown accustomed to is the change. That's kind of normal in the NFL, and you get used to it real quick."