If there ever was a year for the San Francisco 49ers to break out of their multi-year slump and make a return to the postseason party in the National Football League, 2010 would be the year. All signs point towards the Arizona Cardinals not being quite as good as they were in recent year now that Kurt Warner has retired, and there’s still plenty of question marks surrounding both the Seattle Seahawks and the St. Louis Rams. It all begins and ends with the play of quarterback Alex Smith though. That’s not say that the 49ers can’t be a 9-7 type team and make the playoffs if Smith is good, but not great. But they really can’t expect to make any sort of serious noise unless he takes a couple big steps forward in 2010.
Smith joined KNBR in San Francisco to talk about how the start of training camp is still a big and exciting deal, how this offseason has been different for him knowing that it’s his team, the difference having Michael Crabtree all offseason and training camp will make, how the offense will generally be more versatile this year, how offenisve coordinator Jimmy Ray is not at all conservative, his goals for the season – individually and for the team – and his relationship with head coach Mike Singletary.
On if the start of training camp feels like a ‘big deal’ considering how long and prolonged the other parts of the offseason are:
“No it’s definitely a big deal. You know, I think the offseason is important, maybe a little more important for the skill position players, but no one’s going to make the team in shorts. This is all going to come down to when we put the pads on and who can go out there and execute. So, it is important, I think it can be a kind of foundation to step on and build on, but you can’t steal the real deal. That’s when guys are going to make the team or they’re not, you’re going to find out if you’re playing or you’re not. That’s when it all happens.”
On how this offseason has been different for him knowing that he’s the guy as well having been with the same offensive coordinator for the second consecutive offseason for the first time in his career:
“They do, and that made for a very different offseason. And I think that all builds up to this. You know, this offseason has been in my eyes the best offseason we’ve had, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Not just me but all over. I think guys are more confident, I think they understand what we’re doing better. And then I’ve been able to really take advantage of all the reps I’ve got because there wasn’t a competition this offseason. So I really tried to take advantage of that and take all the reps and get better from every single one.”
On how much more versatile the offense might be with Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree at his disposal:
“I think it will to have like you said, Michael’s been here all offseason and we’ll have him here all training camp and from day one, but not just him but everybody. I think we’re coming in as a more cohesive group. I think we’re more versatile. I think we’re able to do more things this offseason with the things we’ve put in and the changes we’ve made. So I’m excited for that. But you can just never tell. You can’t really dictate the way a game’s going to go, you might step into a game thinking you’re going to run 40 times that game and something might change, and you might have to open it up to try to win the game. And I think the same goes the other way. You might go in thinking we’re going to air it out and spread it out and it goes a different direction. I think you have to have that ability at this level to be successful. You have to be able to do all of it.”
On if he feels like last year’s individual statistics were a good benchmark for him to try to meet:
“I look at last year’s stats and feel like we were able to do some good things, and I was able to do some good things. But certainly don’t feel like I was setting the bar. Sure I was better statistically, but I still feel like myself and this offense still have a long way to go. An 18:12 ratio is not what I’m looking for, not what this team’s looking for. So obviously those things are a step in the right direction, but I’m looking to take them a whole lot further than that.”
On what he thinks are realistic goals and expectations for himself and the team this year:
“Well I think right now the goals is to make the playoffs. In my mind, that’s what it is; that’s the bottom line. I think we can start talking the division, it’s hard to predict things. I think the great thing about the NFL is that there’s so much parity year in and year out that it’s hard to predict things. I think that’s why it’s such a great game. It’s hard to say what we’re going to see out of Seattle. And I think the same thing with no more Kurt Warner down in Arizona, what St. Louis is going to look like. I think you can waste a lot of time I guess thinking about that or trying to predict what it’s going to look like, when in actuality this camp coming up, all the focus has got to be internally. We need to get better, we need to be prepared as we can be come that opening game against Seattle. But like I said, last year we were 8-8, the goal is to take that next step and make the playoffs.”
On his relationship with Coach Singletary and if he spends much time talking to him about Xs and Os type stuff, or if that’s mostly just with offensive coordinator Jimmy Ray:
“Well you know, me and Coach Singletary talk about anything and everything. I have a great relationship with him. I think the great thing about Coach Singletary is he’s a guy who says the door’s always open and it truly is. I think he has that demeanor about him. You can go in there and ask him anything or with any issue and he’s going to listen and tell you what he thinks and that’s a great thing. So we talk about all kinds of things. Obviously come season time it will probably be a little more about Xs and Os and about football, but we talk about anything and everything and I think that’s one of the great things about Coach Singletary. But as far as Xs and Os go, it’s usually with Jimmy.”
On if he’s excited about his alma mater, Utah, joining the Pac 10:
“Oh no question. I’m ecstatic about this that Utah’s going to be in the Pac 10 now. I grew up in California watching the Pac 10, it was my conference and wished I could have gone to all the Pac 10 schools coming out of high school but didn’t have that opportunity. And now for Utah to have earned this, especially on the football field and all the success they’ve had in the past 10 years and since I’ve been gone, to have that kine of be recognized, I’m excited about it. No more excuses at this point. If we go undefeated again, we won’t have any excuses.”