In his seventh season under center for the Niners though, Smith began to reflect the form that had first landed him in San Francisco. Setting career highs in passing yards (3,144), completion percentage (61.3) and yards-per-attempt (7.1) while starting all 16 games, Smith led the 49ers to a 13-3 regular season and the NFC Championship game, one win shy of reaching the Super Bowl. Now, Smith and his gridiron crew are reloading for another run at the Lombardi trophy.
“I think everybody was ready for what happened last season,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of excitement coming off of last year and the fans are extremely excited, so it’s been a fun offseason. It’s fun. It’s great. During this time of year all the fans are so pumped for the season, as we all are. There’s a lot of energy.”
Part of the reason there is so much energy around the organization is how long fans have waited for a return to glory. Another factor is how close the 49ers came a mere six months ago, losing 20-17 in overtime to the New York Giants, the eventual Super Bowl champions. It is something that still lingers over Smith’s memory.
“That bitter taste is still there,” Smith said. “But at the same point you have to just press delete. It doesn’t mean anything. You get to that opening game knowing it doesn’t matter how many games you won the year before. That’s the great thing about the NFL. A new year and you have to re-prove yourself.”
Fortunately for Smith and the fans itching for redemption, that new season is right around the corner as the 49ers open training camp Thursday in Santa Clara, Calif. While Smith will be entering his eighth year with San Francisco, there will be plenty of fresh talent donning the Scarlet and Gold.
“We had a great offseason. A lot of new faces came in and really fit in,” Smith said. “This is the time when real football starts. I feel like with the new rules and all the stuff with the CBA, it’s like we just got to taste football this offseason. We didn’t get as much of it, so it’s going to be fun to put the pads on and get some contact and just get back to football. We’ll see what everybody’s got.”
Many of the acquisitions for San Francisco were made on the offensive side of the ball, giving Smith plenty of new targets. It is something that Smith said he is looking forward to having at his disposal every Sunday.
“Those guys have been great,” Smith said. “They’re extremely talented guys that have just come in and worked really hard. They’re determined to be a part of the team and the playbook and everything, so I’m excited once we get pads on to see what those guys are going to do. They’ve had great offseasons, so I’m excited for camp.”
One of the largest new toys that Smith gained in his receiving corps this offseason was All-Pro wideout Randy Moss, who signed with the 49ers after retiring for a season. Smith said the year-long hiatus did not leave any rust on Moss.
“He’s been a blast on the field and off the field. He’s a great guy, a great teammate. He catches everything. It makes you look good as a quarterback, so it’s been great,” Smith said.
Moss was not the only teammate that Smith had high praise for as he touted the talents of former University of Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick as well.
“Colin’s been great from Day 1. He came into an awkward situation with the lockout but he’s been there from Day 1 putting in the time,” Smith said. “The guy works extremely hard and I think talent wise the sky is the limit for him. That guy can do it all. He has a big-time arm, can really run and he’s athletic and he’s smart. It’s been great and he’s been great. He’s fun to have around. He’s really competitive. It’s fun to have a guy around that has that great balance of being extremely competitive, which you want to have in a quarterback because it makes you better, but at the same time is humble and down to earth and hungry and willing to learn.”
Hopefully for the 49ers and their faithful, Smith will teach his apprentice what it takes to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to the City by the Bay.