Welcome to Chapter 2 in the developing relationship between Alex Smith and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, a relationship that has to grow. And grow quickly if the 49ers are to make anything out of this season.
This brand-new bond has to develop more dimensions for 49ers fans to chew on than was displayed in Week 1 when Smith played as conservatively as humanly possible — which was a positive — for the veteran of six disappointing years.
In the 49ers’ season-opening win over the Seattle Seahawks, Smith looked like a rookie trying to prove to his coach he would not make a mistake. With Smith’s track record, he was.
He managed to avoid big mistakes, but when it was all over, Smith had completed only two passes longer than 12 yards, and only six of his 15 completions went to wide receivers.
Did Smith, who’s been accused of trying to do too much in the past, earn any extra leeway from Harbaugh? We’ll see today against the Cowboys.
“Alex was very prepared for the football game,” Harbaugh said earlier this week. “His alignments, assignments, and everybody else’s, and adjustments. Thought he was on point throughout the ballgame.”
That certainly doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for playing any more wide open this afternoon. No matter that the 49ers managed just 209 yards in total offense, and, despite dominating things for 2½ quarters, found themselves just two points in front of the Seahawks late in the third quarter before Ted Ginn Jr. came to the rescue.
It was obvious in Week 1 that Harbaugh covets Smith not turning plays negative by “making cool decisions and sometimes pulling the ball down and running ... three four, five times in the ballgame where he turned what could have been negative plays into positive gains and in a couple cases, big gains.”
Unfortunately, the 49ers’ offense has to expand and make threats out of Braylon Edwards, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, not to mention Josh Morgan. If that happens, Frank Gore becomes that much more threatening as a running back.
Which all comes back to the process of Smith becoming trustworthy in the eyes of Harbaugh, which won’t happen if we see Smith take one step forward, three steps back like he has in the past.
A simple baby step forward would be absolutely fine.
Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. Email him at email@example.com.