Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 9/5/12
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Six months ago, Alex Smith looked like he could have played his final snap as the quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. With Peyton Manning still a free agent at the time, the 49ers brought in the 11-time Pro Bowler for a workout.Though Manning ultimately chose to sign with the Denver Broncos, Smith's future in San Francisco was in question. While the 49ers courted Manning, Smith met with the Miami Dolphins. But once Manning was no longer available, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh successfully made a strong push to convince Smith to return.With the 49ers set to begin the 2012 regular season in Green Bay against the Packers, Harbaugh is showing his commitment to Smith by touting him as the "unquestioned leader" of the team."He's our unquestioned leader and we have tremendous confidence in Alex because of the way he works, the way he prepares," Harbaugh told the Green Bay media in a telephone conference Wednesday.Though Harbaugh refused to expand on his statement, Smith appreciated his coach's words."It's an honor for him to say that," Smith said in a teleconference. "It's something I take a lot of pride in, what my teammates think of me, my coaches. I think that comes by how you prepare and how you play, your approach to the game. Are you accountable, basically, is what it comes down to."Packers coach Mike McCarthy had a role in Smith being selected No. 1 overall in the 2005 draft. That was the year that McCarthy spent as San Francisco's offensive coordinator, before leaving in 2006 to take over in Green Bay.With McCarthy and the 49ers drafting Smith, it left Aaron Rodgers on the board to eventually be taken by the Packers with the 24th overall pick."I thought Alex played very well last year, just having a chance to study the 49ers throughout the spring in preparation for this opener," McCarthy said of Smith. "He's a mature quarterback, very experienced. He's played in a lot of systems. He's definitely comfortable with this new system."Their offense definitely challenges you schematically. I think he does a very good job of running their offense. He's still a good athlete and very smart to run their offense. He does a very good job running the offense."After an inconsistent six years to begin his NFL career that resulted in no winning seasons, Smith finally had his breakthrough in 2011. Smith threw 17 touchdown passes and had only five interceptions while leading San Francisco to a 13-3 regular season record and was an overtime win away from making it to the Super Bowl."I really felt like in past years sometimes that I tried to do too much," Smith said. "I'd try to go out there and make things happen too much. I don't feel any extra pressure to go out and do anything special. My job is to go through my reads, get us in the right plays, make good decisions and throw the ball accurately and let the rest come to me."I don't feel like I'm pressing; I'm letting those things come to me. I think I've played well like that."Smith and Rodgers got to know each other quite well leading up to the 2005 draft and have stayed in touch ever since. With the two about to meet head-to-head in the NFL for the third time, Rodgers is looking to stay undefeated against him."It's been fun to be friends with him at (age) 21 and now at 28, our eighth year together, both of us," Rodgers said. "He's a great guy, and a guy who's playing at a high level. To have that many pass attempts like he did last year, and then to take care of the football the way he did, didn't get enough credit for the job that he did. That's very difficult to do. And they gave him some weapons this year."He's going to be a big-time quarterback."With the Packers' defense coming off a season in which they allowed more passing yards than any team in NFL history, Smith has an opportunity to perform well in the regular-season opener. However, the 49ers are far from a pass-first team. Last season, despite Smith's success, San Francisco finished 29th in the league in passing yards."They're a fast defense," Smith said of Green Bay. "They know what they're doing and they're well-coached. The other thing is they do so much. They give you a lot to think about. You turn on the film from week to week and (there is) all different things they do. Those are the things that stand out to me."Follow Paul Imig on Twitter
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