EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Through the ups and downs of a tumultuous seven seasons, Alex Smith is still in San Francisco after being the top overall draft pick by the team in 2005 and is now thriving as the starting quarterback for the 49ers.It's never been easy on Smith, despite the lofty draft status and that he has survived into his eighth season leading San Francisco is a testament to his resiliency and willingness to adapt. On many occasions, fans and the media have felt the 49ers should have cut their losses and moved on from Smith, who was inconsistent at best his first six seasons.Enter new coach Jim Harbaugh last season and something clicked with Smith, who is second in the league with a 115.9 quarterback rating through two games this season."Don't feel like I'm doing anything special," Smith said on a conference call with Minnesota media in advance of this week's game with the Vikings. "I just feel like I'm just playing football, playing more consistently and just doing my job. Not trying to do too much, which I'd done in the past and early on in my career. Really just trying to do my job and not force things."The transformation for Smith under Harbaugh's tutelage has been astounding.Through the first six seasons of his career, he had started a full 16 games only once and had missed the entire 2008 season due to shoulder surgery. When on the field, Smith had thrown more interceptions (53) than touchdowns (51) and never completed more than 61 percent of his passes. His rookie season he had thrown one touchdown to 11 interceptions and finished with a 40.8 quarterback rating.Harbaugh pledged his loyalty to Smith right away and the embattled quarterback followed through with his best season in the NFL last year. He started all 16 games, finished with 3,144 yards passing, 17 touchdowns to just five interceptions and a career-best 90.7 quarterback rating.And Smith, leading a team that is a favorite in the NFC, is continuing his development this season. He's led 49ers to wins against two playoff teams from last season, at Green Bay and at home against Detroit, with four touchdowns. He's now thrown 216 consecutive passes without an interception, setting a new club record once held by Hall of Famer Steve Young. His last interception came in Week 11 of last season in a loss at Baltimore."Playing whether its third-and-long, obviously trying to get the first down, but at the same time, you're still going through your reads and the defense says to check it down, check it down and not trying to force things and making things worse for yourself," Smith said. "I think obviously it's just a matter of doing it and seeing the results, and really buying in and believing it."Smith said he isn't thinking about vindication for those early years, but he has given belief to everyone in San Francisco by turning into the perfect signal caller for a team built on one of the league's best defenses and a strong running game.
And don't think Smith is just a game manager for the 49ers."He's making some plays for their offense down the field, not just intermediate routes, which was the knock on him in the past," said Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier, who faces 2-0 San Francisco this week. "He'll complete balls down the field. He is very accurate. Their system really seems to suit him well. They do a great job of running the ball and play-action pass and moving him around the pocket. And he's thrived in this system. He's done very well. He plays with a lot of confidence and he seems to really have a command of what they want to get done at the quarterback position. He's definitely more than a game manager."Harbaugh wouldn't get into specifics about what has allowed Smith to succeed in his system, but offered a simple answer."He's a fine football player," Harbaugh said. "He's got a tremendous amount of talent."Smith is more than the game-manager he's made out to be. While the league attacks passing records at an unprecedented pace, Smith is content to take what opposing defenses give him and has been the model of consistency in Harbaugh's system.But it doesn't mean he isn't willing to take shots down the field, especially this season with San Francisco giving him more targets, including receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to go with tight end Vernon Davis and receiver Michael Crabtree."You're trying to take shots, but you're taking calculated shots," Smith said. "The whole idea is you're not trying to throw into town meetings. You're not trying to throw into double- , triple coverage, things like that. But if you've got a good matchup and you've got a good shot, take it. If the look's right and you're getting what we're looking for, then taking it, but not forcing those things."And not forcing things has Smith and the 49ers in prime position to go one step further than they did last season when they lost in the NFC Championship game.
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