Minicamp mantra: Let's get ... mechanical?

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The golf analogy quarterback Alex Smith drew Tuesday seemed appropriate amid new rules outlawing contact at NFL minicamps.

These days, a Tiger Woods fist pump packs more punch than the most fearsome defensive end.

"We're not playing tomorrow," Smith said as the San Francisco 49ers opened their mandatory camp for veterans, "so this is a great time to really get some work in, a little bit like the driving range. If you yank one left, it's not the end of the world. You can try some new things."

Football isn't golf, but it feels a little more like it this offseason. Prohibitions on contact leave fewer ways for players to work at improving. With the action on the field slowing down, the environment could be more conducive to working on mechanics.

"This is the time for me to pay close attention to that stuff," Smith said. "Come training camp and the season, when it gets competitive, I don't want to be thinking about it."

Smith has been transferring to the field some of the improvements pitching coach Tom House suggested during a week-long session with several quarterbacks, including Tom Brady, earlier this offseason.

Brady has long been one of the most fundamentally sound quarterbacks. New Orleans' Drew Brees, who has also worked with House, recommended the former major-league relief pitcher to Smith.

Maintaining some bend in Smith's left knee at delivery has been one point of emphasis, but Smith has become wise to the overplayed offseason storyline after living through several under a long list of departed coordinators.

Smith knows game situations force players to draw from instinct, not from what a pitching coach told them at a clinic six months earlier. The question for Smith becomes whether the improvements in mechanics can become second nature.

"When 300-pound guys are running at you, you just react and throw," Smith said. "Those are times when no one cares about the mechanics. I don't care who you are."

Smith was speaking before the 49ers held their practice session Tuesday afternoon. He and his teammates will be wearing helmets, but no pads, during sessions that might qualify as glorified walk-throughs.

"You can't be physical, so it's hard for the guys up front," Smith said. "Even outside, the corners and receivers used to getting press work, jam work, those guys getting physical outside, you don't get that right now. There are other areas of focus and that is where you direct your attention."