'He's really a man now, a real strong man'

When San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh wasn't remarking on Michael Crabtree's hands during a recent interview, he was confirming something of greater importance: Alex Smith has grown up physically.

Smith looked sturdier last season, and there was something to it. He started all 16 games, plus two more in the playoffs, despite taking 51 sacks -- four more than Smith absorbed while playing 22 games over the previous two seasons combined.

"I think if you look at some of the pictures of him when he first came into the league as a young, skinny 20-year-old, and watch him develop and watch him, maybe you call it a late-bloomer physically," Harbaugh told KNBR, according to Sports Radio Interviews. "But he’s really a man now, a real strong man. He works extremely hard at it. But I'm excited because he’s throwing the ball with a lot of velocity, he’s throwing very accurately, he's worked very hard on his mechanics."

This lends some validation to the discussion we had this month. There are never assurances against injury, but Smith does appear better equipped to take punishment.