Spander: With familiar offense intact, Niners feeling comfortable 

In football it’s always the future. And on this Tuesday morning of sunshine and possibility, for the 49ers it made sense to look ahead.

To the result of the vote on the planned stadium, to the results of a season which is only three months away, and you’d better believe the schedule.

Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye cast his ballot. He was wearing one of those “I voted” stickers as a reminder. Not that politics was the order of the day. Instead, it was progress — as in, how much are the Niners making?

Enough, seemingly, so Raye could deal with post-practice questions comfortably. The way Alex Smith, who kept finding receivers in the end zone, was dealing with any tweaks in Raye’s maneuvering.

All the parts count in the NFL — defense, special teams, offense — but nothing and no one counts as much as the quarterback.

Without a great one or a very good one, the case is hopeless.

Which is the reason the St. Louis Rams used the first pick in this spring’s NFL draft to take Sam Bradford.

Which is the reason the Niners used the first pick in the 2005 draft to take Alex Smith.

Six seasons now for Alex. Six seasons and five offensive coordinators, but for the first time, the same one, Raye, in consecutive seasons. Perhaps also for the first time, a belief, an understanding.

That was a legitimate and interesting question posed by coach Mike Singletary on Monday, the opening of what in the newspeak of pro football is called an “organized team activity.”

“What if?” wondered Singletary, again speaking for us all.

What if Smith had the benefit of consistency, had not been whipsawed from idea to idea, never gaining control over one before forced to try to learn another.

“You take a guy like [Colts quarterback] Peyton Manning, who’s had the same offensive coordinator for 10 years,” Singletary said. “You take a guy, like Alex, who’s never had that. You have a real ‘What if?’”

If Smith is a real quarterback, we may finally learn in the fall of 2010.

“I don’t have anything to compare it to,” Raye answered when asked whether Smith was limited because his teachers kept revolving. “But I do know with the volume involved, being able to call a play with some degree of certainty, if you had to change coordinators every year as you start, it would be mind-boggling.”

Two years, one coordinator. For Smith, it’s a unique and delightful concept.

“It feels good,” agreed Smith. “We’re so much ahead of the game than where we were. But expectations rise.”

To a point observers are suggesting the Niners should reach the postseason for the first time in eight years. Two huge rookie linemen. Michael Crabtree for an entire preseason. Vernon Davis having the time of his life. And Alex Smith not needing to learn a new offense. A very acceptable blend creating optimism.

“He’s a lot more confident,” Raye said of Smith. “His reads are better. His footwork is improved.”

Oh yes, as Singletary said, “What if?”

Said Smith, “I try not to think about it.”

But the rest of us always will.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.

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Art Spander

Art Spander

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Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.bleacherreport.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.
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