In his seventh season and working with his seventh offensive coordinator, Alex Smith is still no closer to becoming a legitimate starting quarterback.
There's something going haywire in San Francisco, and I'm not talking about the BART riots. (Seriously, did the whole city fall into a Cory Doctorow fever dream?) The San Francisco 49ers, arguably the most talented team in the NFC West, are on a fast track to the bottom of the division.
After a decent draft that landed them pass-rush project Aldon Smith, a legitimate change-of-pace runner in Kendall Hunter, and potentially their quarterback of the future in Colin Kaepernick, there was reason to believe that new coach Jim Harbaugh had this team heading in the right direction. All the team had to do to contend was maintain the dominant strength of the defense, and sprinkle some of his magical pixie dust on the offense, and this team would become a formidable contender.
Instead, they're quickly turning into a joke.
Free agency foibles
If the best way to strengthen your team is to start up the middle, then surely it's also the quickest path to weakening it. And the Niners have gotten weaker on both sides of the ball, inexplicably letting stalwart nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin go, and letting their starting center get poached in free agency. Their solution to both problems? Fill from within by sliding semi-skilled backups (DE Isaac Sopoaga and G Adam Snyder) out of position.
They've gone sideways or worse with a number of free agent moves, perhaps improving only at receiver with the addition of Braylon Edwards. But with Michael Crabtree not participating in training camp practices for a third consecutive year, they may be squandering their high-upside talent just as fast.
And their latest "plan" in free agency, after an ugly opening start for Alex Smith's offense (2-7 passing for 10 yards, getting sacked and fumbling twice once while earning one first down in five series): bring Daunte Culpepper back from the UFL in for a visit. (Jeff George was apparently not returning phone calls.)
Early returns are not very positive. Snaps are on the ground, gaping holes are opening in the running game for backs like the Saints' Mark Ingram, and the offense, if anything, looks worse than before. A post on Niners Nation about the awfulness of Alex Smith's very first throw of the preseason ignited a firestorm of more than 500 comments from angry and bewildered fans.
Granted, it's only the first preseason game for a brand new coach. But the coach is sounding dangerously out of his depth.