Liotta: Smith comfortable in same offense 

When it comes to the National Football League this time of year, everything ranks somewhere between speculation and dart-throwing.

Everywhere the football fan looks on the Web, somebody who has put all the names and numbers down on paper is saying which NFL team has the best chance to reach the Super Bowl.

The 49ers seem to surface somewhere between 15th and 21st in the rankings. And once again, the Niners’ question marks swirl around their choice of quarterback.

It seems nobody, except for Mike Singletary and Jimmy Raye, has an ounce of faith that Alex Smith can build on the season he had last year.

In 2009 — his year back from the dead — Smith completed 60.5 percent of his passes, threw more touchdowns than interceptions (18-12), and had a quarterback rating of 81.5. All firsts in his career.

It wasn’t perfect, but Smith looked light-years ahead of where he left off in 2007. Statistically, he was better than when he played with Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator — the only year he appeared reasonably comfortable passing from a professional pocket.

This week brought another first for Smith as the 49ers went through four days of OTAs — Organized Team Activities (leave it to the NFL to come up with yet another term for practice). Mark it as the first offseason since joining the 49ers Smith didn’t have to introduce himself to a new offensive coordinator.

Yes, simply a second year in the same offense is a first for Smith, who — if you’re counting — has played under Mike McCarthy (2005), Turner (2006), Jim Hostler (2007) and Mike Martz (2008) before Raye signed on in 2009.

Imagine having a different boss every year. Sounds like a nightmare.

So, with the calendar giving the 49ers 16 weeks until they square off against the Seattle Seahawks in their 2010 opener, we can look forward to 102 days of wondering whether Alex has it in him to lead this team to the next level.

“I understand the system, where I can take shots, where I can gamble a little bit and when not to,” he said after an OTA session earlier this week. “I’m just really comfortable right now.”

Given that it is that time of year, I’m going to throw my dart on top of the pile, and say Smith in 2010 will be the best quarterback the 49ers have had since Jeff Garcia way back when.

He’ll have to be if the Niners, who’ve failed to reach the top half of the league in points scored or yards gained the past six years, are to surpass the expectations of those speculating dart throwers.

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

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