Of course, Nolan doesn’t see it that way.
When I asked him about the relationship after a weekend minicamp workout, he insisted, “Alex and I have always had a good relationship.” When I said it didn’t seem like that last year when Nolan was insisting that Smith’s damaged shoulder was all right and Smith finally told a writer that it wasn’t, and that he required surgery, Nolan countered, “You guys can write what you want to.”
So, Nolan is still in denial. Smith was more open about it when I talked to him.
“We really didn’t have any communication for a while,” he said. “It seemed like we were communicating through the media. It was crazy.
“But we’ve gotten past that. We’re fine now. We even joke about what happened last year. If you can laugh about something, it’s not really a problem any more.”
Smith’s right shoulder is sound again and he threw the ball with ease in the three-day minicamp, though neither he nor the other quarterbacks in camp — Shaun Hill, J.T. O’Sullivan and Drew Olson from last year’s practice squad — were asked to throw long passes. That will come during the organized team activities (OTAs) in June.
The bigger question, though, is how Smith will react when he’s hit. In practice, teams put red shirts on their quarterbacks to protect them from contact, but there’s no way to prevent it during a game.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it,” Smith said. “It will probably be in the back of my mind until the time I’m hit and get past it. But I’m not worrying about it.”
Nor is Smith particularly worried about the fact that, for the first time in his four years, he is competing for the starting job. Smith and Hill took most of the snaps in the minicamp. O’Sullivan is already familiar with the offensive system brought in by new coordinator Mike Martz, whom the former UC Davis star played for last year with the Detroit Lions.
“Competition is always good, right?” Smith said. “The only real difference is that I’m only taking half the snaps in practice now instead of most of them.”
Smith has faced a number of problems since he was taken No. 1 overall in the 2005 draft — poor pass protection, inadequate receivers — but the main problem has been the fact that he’s had four offensive coordinators in four years. The one year he did well was under Norv Turner, and Turner and Martz both use versions of the offense developed by Don Coryell.
“The good thing is that the language is the same,” Smith said, “so it’s easier to understand the plays. You’re not going from Spanish to Italian. But there are differences in the offenses.”
Nolan hasn’t expressed any preference in the quarterback competition and it won’t be his decision anyway. Martz will make that one.
But Nolan narrowly escaped being fired after last season. Now, his future is tied to QB’s performance because Smith has more ability than Hill and O’Sullivan, who are really no more than competent backups. If Smith steps up this season, the 49ers will be decent. If Hill or O’Sullivan is starting, they’ll be back in the muck and Nolan will be gone.