Hold it. Hold it. Hold it.
Let’s not be annointing Alex Smith as a bonifide, lead-us-to-the Super Bowl NFL quarterback just yet. Smith looked terrific against the Chicago Bears in the 49ers’ opening preseason game, a 28-14 victory that provided Niners fans with their first dose of “Hey, we might belong in this league after all.”
But there are still plenty of hurdles yet to climb.
Sure, Smith completed 16 of 21 passes, moving around, looking like he was in command. Considering how he looked last year, that was huge progress. But we must remember this: In terms of football complexity, the preseason is to the regular season what tic-tac-toe is to an expert-level Sudoku puzzle.
The preseason is a good college hitter stepping into the batter’s box against Roger Clemens, who is just throwing a little batting practice, building up his stamina, working on a few pitches. The college hitter will do just fine as the Rocket works out the kinks.
Now, imagine how that same hitter would do if Clemens were on the mound, snorting and sweating, pitching in a game that he wanted to win. The college hitter would have a different problem on his hands.
During the preseason, defenses stand still and rush the quarterback like they are supposed to. The schemes are described as “vanilla.” Bring up the lights, count the wins and losses in the stands and nothing looks like its supposed to. Defensive coordinators will try every trick in the book to confuse a young quarterback.
Progress is a nice first step, but Smith has plenty more to prove before he’ll win games during the regular season, and there’s no better place for him to start than Sunday’s game against the Raiders.
WHILE I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION: I was surprised at the excitement caused by Armando Benitez saving a couple of games against the San Diego Padres this week. It didn’t prove a thing.
Benitez has always been able to save games when his team is 7½ games back in the standings. He still hasn’t saved a game that matters for these Giants, and that’s just one of the hurdles this team still has before it — the biggest of which might be the Los Angeles Dodgers, who look like they’re the first team in the NL West in two years that is actually good. If they’re for real, the division race is over.
» With football breaking out all over Northern California, there will be talk of pressure mounting on this player or that player, but there’s one player— college or pro — who has more on his shoulders than any other by a landslide.
Cal quarterback Nate Longshore.
With just about every preseason prediction, the Bears have been declared a powerhouse in the Pac-10 Conference this year, with experience, a Heisman Trophy candidate in Marshawn Lynch and just about everything the Bears need to reach the Rose Bowl. If Longshore can play, and with Cal football fans chomping at the bit like they are, there’s nobody facing more pressure than Longshore.
» And, finally, those of you with a friend from the U.K., here’s a warning: You may begin to see a change in your friend’s behavior change this weekend, do not worry. The English football season starts this weekend, and nobody follows their side with more passion — and mood swings — than fans of the English Premier League.
Tim Liotta hosts the weekend edition of “Sportsphone 680” on KNBR (680 AM).