Around the NFC West: Backing Alex Smith

The San Francisco 49ers embraced Alex Smith as their starting quarterback one year ago, when most viewed Smith as a first-round draft bust.

Embracing him has only become easier after the team went 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship Game with Smith taking all the important snaps from center.

"We're all in lockstep as an organization that Alex Smith is our guy," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "It's well-documented. You saw the way he played this year. [He is a] tremendous leader on our football team.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the next step for Smith includes reducing the number of sacks he takes. Maiocco: "On Tuesday, Smith said on 'Chronicle Live' that in the coming weeks he will analyze where he needs to get better and be honest with himself. That's where I see Smith can get better -- a lot better. Perhaps with a full offseason to fully comprehend the offense, Smith will have a greater understanding of the angles he can exploit against certain defenses to get rid of the ball quicker and allow his receivers to make more plays."

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle offers thoughts on various 49ers other than Harbaugh coming up short for awards recently.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says it's way too early for anyone in Seattle to get excited about a Super Bowl coming to the Northwest. Williams: "The Seahawks aren’t the only northern city to show interest, as Washington, Denver, New England, Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit are other northern markets that would likely want to be in the conversation for hosting a Super Bowl. Add to that group the fact San Francisco, San Diego and Minnesota are working on securing funding to build new or remodeled stadiums -- along with the NFL's recent tradition of offering Super Bowls to cities that build new stadiums -- and Seattle likely has an uphill climb of hosting a Super Bowl in the foreseeable future." Noted: The Seahawks have not submitted a formal bid for a Super Bowl. Seattle probably could have secured one years ago had the team's stadium, which opened in 2002, included a roof.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks would be wise to pursue Peyton Manning this offseason. Boling: "Risks? Sure, they’re numerous and obvious. But if there weren’t risks, he would never hit the market. And if he turns out to be even close to the Peyton Manning who was an 11-time Pro Bowl selection, it’s likely that no other single move could put the Seahawks in contention quicker than landing him."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with new Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy, who visited Seahawks headquarters Wednesday and went to lunch with several reporters who covered him during his playing days. Kennedy: "It hit me that I’m a Hall of Famer, but you still can't believe it because of the magnitude of the situation being in the Hall of Fame. When you get a call from Steve Largent congratulating you; you get a call from John Randle saying congratulations; Michael Irvin; Marshall Faulk; guys that I played with. That was very special."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with the Cardinals' new quarterbacks coach, John McNulty. McNulty: "I don't think the job is to replace Kurt Warner any more. It's not to go win the game every week, but I think it's to be more productive, to certainly not lose the game, and to make sure every time they're on the field we're in tune with exactly what needs to be done, from play to play. We have to know what these QBs are in tune with and what they'll be able to handle, mentally and physically, and gear it toward them. In the end, they need to perform better, so that will fall on me, that will really fall on all of us. But it ultimately falls on them."

Also from Somers: Hiring former Indianapolis assistant Frank Reich as receivers coach reinforces the idea Arizona could pursue Manning this offseason. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "I hired Frank because he's a good coach."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team was close to hiring Todd Haley, but the lack of an opening for an offensive coordinator was a complicating factor.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Dave McGinnis' hiring in St. Louis was inevitable once Jeff Fisher became head coach. McGinnis: "Coaches in this league want to work for Jeff Fisher. The environment that you work in is very, very conducive to doing good things. He's very professional, but you have fun doing it."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says Fisher must build a program, not just a team. Gordon: "The task will be daunting, but Fisher inspires confidence within the football industry. This is why top assistant coaches are lining up to join this project."