Listening to the Hall of Fame quarterback's thoughts helped crystallize my own. All the focus on whether the 49ers should embrace more of a spread offense obscures a key point: Smith must become more proficient operating from under center if he hopes to become a winning quarterback for the 49ers or any other NFL team.
Just as a scrambling quarterback must learn how to succeed as a pocket passer, Smith must learn to operate a conventional offense. As I have noted several times, Smith isn't Peyton Manning, so the 49ers can forget about asking him to carry the offense from the shotgun play after play. They can use the shotgun more frequently, but probably not predominantly.
"If he is really only able to thrive in the spread, then that might not be the dilemma of the week, but it is the dilemma of the year and onto next year as to exactly how they are going to do that," Young said. "Now, I can't believe that if you can play competent quarterback in the spread that you can't transition to understand how to play quarterback in the I (formation). I did it and all of the above and it just doesn't seem like that is all that hard to do."
This is where offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye's recent comments come into play. While supportive of Smith, Raye said game situations were far more significant than formations in the team's second-half offensive successes against the Texans and Packers. The 49ers trailed both games by wide margins. Lots of teams rack up yardage while playing from behind.
"The quantity of the yards and quality of the yards has to be measured by the score and the time in the game," Raye said. "I don’t think the formation per se had a whole lot to do with it. The fact that we were in a semi-rally mode because we were down by four scores had something to do with it."
If Smith cannot play well across personnel groups and formations, the 49ers cannot win with him over the long term. Young drove home that point.
"They are stuck with an All-Pro running back (Frank Gore) that needs a certain formation and then up-and-coming stars that need another formation," Young said. "And they have no way to meld the two because they really aren't compatible."
The way to meld the two is for Smith to adapt. He needs to do that over the final six games.
"There is no reason why we can't get Alex to get under center," Young said. "It is a matter of time, if we can withstand the growing pains of doing that. But there is no reason he cannot get somebody under center in the offseason and really work it out."
The 49ers' Alex Smith has put up better numbers in the shotgun formation than from under center, according to ESPN Stats & Information.