Liotta: Smith showing signs he can be a franchise QB

This afternoon in Seattle, Niners fans should be hoping they witness one of the most important, unexpected steps the team could take toward rejoining the NFL’s elite in the near future.

So impressive was Alex Smith a week ago when the 49ers beat up the Jacksonville Jaguars 20-3, he forced the Niner Nation to do not only a double-take, but something almost unthinkable a few months ago — mention him as a possible key ingredient in the team’s reclaiming its former glory.

Confident, accurate, in command. Smith looked so good last Sunday that Mike Singletary’s calling him one of the most accurate passers in the league earlier in the week looked more and more spot on.

Smith may have completed 27 of 41 passes for 232 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but he was better than that. So good, in fact, that everybody had to wonder if the performance was a fluke. A one-time aberration in Smith’s slow walk into oblivion.

Smith has to be the front-runner in the race to become the NFL’s 2009 Comeback Player of the Year. Part of his lead comes from his crisp performance against the Jaguars. Part also comes from simply how far he had fallen since being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft.

Remember Smith’s departure after his blowup with Mike Nolan? There were some who thought he’d never wear a 49ers uniform again. He was a bust with an injured throwing arm. Come back from that? No way.

Well, he has, and this afternoon in Seattle he gets 60 minutes against the Seahawks to prove last week wasn’t a fluke. And if he adds another solid performance to his resume, the 49ers may just start thinking they have their quarterback of the future.

If he can’t, the 49ers will dispatch every scout they have to every corner of college football looking for a quarterback upon whom they can build the franchise’s next dynasty.

Give Singletary credit for getting Smith to this point. On the bench watching Shaun Hill lead the 49ers’ offense, Smith spent week after week without an ounce of pressure being placed on his shoulders. He apparently made the most of that time.

Smith is on pace to post a career-best quarterback rating, and finish a season for the first time with more touchdown passes than interceptions. These stats are so far beyond expectations — because there were none once he lost the quarterback job to Hill — Alex Smith and the phrase “49ers’ quarterback of the future” deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence.

Random thought

First, Tiger Woods looks human on the golf course. Now, we find out he’s human off the golf course, too. I don’t think Tiger Woods can ever regain the place Tiger Woods held in the collective minds of golf fans. That’s how perfect the game thought he was.

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at tliotta@sfexaminer.com.

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