Niners' QB Alex Smith busts out

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:01 PM ET

Since being selected first overall in the 2005 draft, Alex Smith has been viewed as mediocre at best and a bust by most.

But that negativity may be changing after the opening four games of the 2011 season.

Smith has not budged the likes of Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady off the top pedestal but one quarter of the way through the season he can hold his head high as he has led the San Francisco 49ers to a 3-1 record and a commanding lead in the weak NFC West.

The 49ers registered the biggest shock of last week’s action when they rallied to stun the Philadelphia Eagles 24-23 on the road to win back-to-back road games on the east coast.

This week the 49ers are back home and face a tough but beatable opponent in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A victory here and the 49ers could put a headlock on the division title.

On the season, Smith has completed 72 of 107 passes, a 67.3% completion rate, for 795 yards. He has tossed four touchdown passes and has been intercepted just once. He has also been sacked 14 times.

But like he showed in the victory over the Eagles, he is getting the job done. Just as important, he is playing with confidence.

“Alex Smith and I came in together,” running back Frank Gore said after the Eagles’ victory. “He just needed a coach to believe in him and this coach does. This was a big game for him and for all of us because we know we can win.”

The coach that Gore was referring to is former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh, a rookie coach in the NFL who was the guiding light at Stanford University.

“It’s Alex’s first time having someone who really can understand him and show him the quarterback position and put him in great situations,” Gore said. “Coach Harbaugh is doing a great job with him.”

Smith has had seven different offensive coordinators in his seven seasons with San Francisco but in Harbaugh he finds himself in a positive and nurturing situation. He is gaining confidence in the offensive scheme and being the leader that the organization thought was always there.

“I think consciously, I’m just trying to do less, if that makes sense,” Smith said recently of his improved play. “I really felt like I was doing too much for a long time — pressing too hard, trying to make too many plays instead of just letting them come to me.

“And that’s kind of what I talked about — playing within a system, just being myself and let the plays happen. Really, not forcing things. Make good decisions, and I think the good plays will come.”

HASSLE FREE

Best pickup of the off-season?

Four games in and it’s no contest — it’s quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

Few can say they saw this improvement in the play of the Tennessee Titans and the play of the 10-year veteran from the Seattle Seahawks who has been the chief reason they are off to a 3-1 start to their season.

“We thought he had a lot left in the tank from watching him in the playoffs last year,” new Titans head coach Mike Munchak said. “We didn’t bring him here to retire. Our plan was to bring him here and do exactly what he is doing. We feel great about him not only on the field, but with a young team and he has done a great job since he has come in here.

“He has set the tempo in how we practise, expectations, how he leads, how he teaches and that crossed over to the whole team.”

In his opening four games, Hasselbeck is 68-for-132 for a 66.7% completion rate. He has passed for 1,152 yards, thrown eight TD passes and has three picks.

“I’m not trying to do anything crazy, I’m just being myself,” Hasselbeck told the Los Angeles Times. “When coach Munchak brought me here, he was like: ‘Listen, we don’t need you to try to do anything that you’ve never done. We need you to be what you’ve been in Seattle the last 10 years. We’ve got all the other pieces.’

“There are signs around the building that just say, ‘Be a pro.’ That’s all they’re looking for. I’m down with that.”

The Titans suffered a big blow last week with the loss of wide receiver Kenny Britt. But on the plus side they finally got a quality running game out of Chris Johnson.

If the Titans’ O-line continues to keep Hasselbeck upright — he’s been sacked just four times — he should continue to shine and lead a team that few want to run up against.

This week the Titans face a wounded beast in the Pittsburgh Steelers who get to play on their home court.

The Steelers, though, will be missing several key parts including linebacker James Harrison, defensive tackle Casey Hampton and defensive end Aaron Smith.

A victory by Hasselbeck and company would go a long way in setting up their season and dooming the 2-2 Steelers to also-ran status.

WHICH WIFE WOULD HE TAKE?

President Barack Obama had the Super Bowl-winning 1985 Chicago Bears at the White House on Friday for a grip-and-grin under the pretext of extending an honour that had to be cancelled back in 1986 due to the Challenger spacecraft mishap.

Much has been made out of the fact that Hall of Famer Dan Hampton declined the invitation due to the fact that he isn’t a fan of Obama. That’s fine, that’s his right.

Tim Wrightman, a teammate of Hampton, criticized Hampton’s decision with a message on Facebook.

“This is the Bears’ once in a lifetime opportunity that has been given a second chance,” Wrightman wrote. “I think it was a classy thing for Obama to right the misfortune of our team. Besides, the White House is not President Obama’s house, it’s the people’s house.”

Then Wrightman delivered the zinger of the year in response to Hampton’s complaint that his wife wasn’t invited to the ceremony.

Wrightman wrote: “Would you take the wife you had when we won or the newest one?”

Ba-da-bing!


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