x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

49ers' Smiths strike gold

Aldon, Alex and Justin have turned the fortunes around of San Francisco's average NFL franchise.

Alex Smith, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, is playing the game his way.
Alex Smith, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, is playing the game his way.

The most common US family name, by far, is Smith, with nearly 2.4 million people answering to it. Three of those people can claim credit for San Francisco surfacing as the surprise team of the year.

In alphabetical order, meet linebacker Aldon, quarterback Alex and defensive tackle Justin. A team whose ceiling before the season was widely considered break-even now stands 11-3, one of four to have already locked up a division title.

Aldon is closing in on Denver's Von Miller, presumptive Defensive Rookie of the Year conferee. He has 13 sacks, tied for fifth league-wide. "Rookie of the year would mean a lot," said Aldon, a first-round draft pick versatile enough to often line up at end.

The position expected by 49ers followers to come out of the opening round was quarterback.

Any quarterback.

In five previous seasons as starter, Alex had yet to deliver a single winning record. It was his good fortune that coach Jim Harbaugh, who crafted a run-minded offence that demands little from the quarterback, came aboard.

Though Smith ranks in the league's bottom half for passing yards, his interception count (five) is second only to Tim Tebow. Alex's passer rating is ninth, and he has turned over just two fumbles.

Harbaugh dismisses Alex's modest yard and touchdown numbers, saying, "People who understand football know a lot more goes into being a quarterback than those statistics."

Says Alex, who dealt with smothering expectations as the No 1 overall draft choice in 2005: "When I was young, I just tried to please everybody. I don't really care about that stuff now."

Alex felt misused or unappreciated by his prior head coaches. He has delighted Harbaugh so much that the coach is campaigning for Alex to join Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees on the NFC Pro Bowl roster.

The eldest Smith most excites Harbaugh, who labels him the 49ers' MVP. "Justin Smith, play after play, he's kicking [tail]," Harbaugh says of the 11-year veteran.

Not to be overlooked is the 49ers' back-up safety, Reggie Smith.