Early signs point to Alex Smith starting

Starting 16 consecutive games in one season can be tough enough for NFL quarterbacks.

Stacking multiple 16-start seasons atop one another requires durability and, of course, the ability to hold the job on merit.

Alex Smith Starts by Season

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith has encountered hurdles on both fronts over the years. The latest news suggests he'll remain on course, at least for now, to push toward a second consecutive 16-start regular season.

Smith, who suffered a concussion against St. Louis on Sunday, has been cleared to participate in non-contact drills. That suggests Smith will likely start against the Chicago Bears on "Monday Night Football" in Week 11.

Smith started all 16 games for the 49ers last season, his first 16-start season since 2006 and the second of his career. He started the first nine games this season.

Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco were the only NFL quarterbacks to enter the 2012 season coming off successive seasons with 16 regular-season starts. Smith, Cam Newton, Matt Hasselbeck, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo and Andy Dalton started 16 games last season.