Gruden, Jaworski break down the 2011 Alex Smith


Gruden, Jaworski break down the 2011 Alex Smith

Alex Smith was the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft. We all know that Aaron Rodgers slid all the way to No. 24 in that draft. But if the 49ers had not taken Smith, which team would've chosen him?Jon Gruden's Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the fifth pick. They selected running back Cadillac Williams after Smith, running back Ronnie Brown (Miami), receiver Braylon Edwards (Cleveland) and running back Cedric Benson (Chicago).If the 49ers did not select Smith, would he have gotten past the Buccaneers at No. 5?"We never took a quarterback in the first round," Gruden said on a conference call Wednesday morning to talk about the 49ers' upcoming "Monday Night Football" against the Pittsburgh Steelers."I wanted old guys. I wanted 38-year-old guys. I don't like young, talented quarterbacks, so probably not."Gruden and fellow ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski spoke at length about Smith and the 49ers."I've always felt Alex was a talented guy," Gruden said. "That's why he's the No. 1 pick in the draft. I think he's in a system right now that he understands and suits. Certainly, Coach (Jim) Harbaugh's hands-on approach, I'm sure, has helped him. It looks like he's playing with confidence. He's playing with some generalship. He's taking care of the ball. He understands he's going to get some opportunities throughout the game with the defense they have. I really just see a guy who's running the show. He's not taking a lot of risks. He doesn't feel like he has to do it all on his own.RELATED: Alex Smith 2011 game logs
"And (Michael) Crabtree has emerged. I'm really impressed with (Kyle) Williams, this No. 10. He's making plays. And Ted Ginn has really found his niche in this offense. They have a lot of speed. Vernon Davis can make plays. And they can hand the ball off to (Frank), and if have to punt, so what. They'll get another opportunity. I really see a mature quarterback. I'm happy for Alex Smith. After all he's been through, it's good to see him winning and having some fun for a change."They haven't lost a game with their offense. At time they've been able to win games with ball control, high percentage passing and Alex Smith has made some timely plays."Jaworski noted several years ago that Smith has a mechanical flaw that leads to some problems with accuracy. Smith has a tendency to throw with a rigid front leg. Typically, Jaworski said quarterback must have bend in that plant leg to throw with consistency.Even as Smith is having the best season of his career, he has not corrected that issue. And Jaworkski said he will no longer harp on the flaw."He really hasn't made a whole lot of improvement in his mechanics," Jaworski said. "I remember a few years ago when I broke down his locked left leg, and I still think that knee lock causes him problems with his accuracy. But it's something he's comfortable with, and it's unique to his passes. I've kind of let it go at that. It's not something I like to see. I think it's a detriment to quarterbacks when they don't have that flexed knee and a cushion. But Alex has played well. And more important, he understands what his role right now."He is the quarterback. He understands system right now. He's not asked to drop back 40 times and win the game for the 49ers. They're winning it with outstanding defense, they're coming off the ball and road-grading people. Frank Gore is having a rock-solid year. And the other component is helping out as well. Kendall Hunter is making a contribution. They're a two-tight end oriented offense. They want to play smash-mouth football and they'll take their shots. And think this is where Alex has been very good. They run the football. They'll throw the play-action game and he'll take his shots. It's a good fit for where he is in his career right now, this style of offense. So I applaud the way he's playing right now. He's very careful with the football and not making a whole lot of mistakes."If Jaworski has a criticism of Smith it's that he has held the ball too long on occasion and taken unnecessary sacks."I'd like to see the ball come out a little quicker," Jaworski said. "There are times he's taking sacks because he's not releasing the football, but other than that I applaud the way he's playing." The Baltimore Ravens, coached by John Harbaugh, are in tied atop the AFC North. John Harbaugh said he will help Jim Harbaugh get prepared to face the Steelers as much as he can. But Gruden does not envision it serving as much of an advantage to the 49ers."I don't know how beneficial it is because the Ravens on offense have nothing to do with the 49ers on offense," Gruden said. "And there's no guarantee the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to play the 49ers like they played the Ravens. So you got to be careful when you work on the telephone. I've always been reluctant to do that. I really think this game here is a totally different set of circumstances than what Ravens saw from the Steelers in their two ballgames. I never put a lot of stock into that."Gruden said the 49ers' defense can pretty much take care of its own job without much help."The San Francisco 49ers always been a very good defensive team," Gruden said. "They've been talented. They've been stingy against the run. They're improved in secondary. I think the addition of (Donte) Whitner has really helped them on back end. And then the addition of Aldon Smith has changed them. They didn't get that kind of pass rush from some of the previous pass-rush specialists. I think those two additions really stand out to me."

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals


Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. — Blaine Gabbert will get his first start for the Arizona Cardinals when they play the Texans in Houston on Sunday.

Coach Bruce Arians announced the decision after Friday's practice.

Drew Stanton, the starter the last two games, bruised his knee early in the Thursday night loss to Seattle last week. He stayed in the game but has been limited in practice all week.

Arians said it will be a game-time decision as to whether Stanton or recently signed Matt Barkley would be Gabbert's backup.

Gabbert will be making his 41st NFL start. He has a 9-31 record. He signed with Arizona last offseason and was the third quarterback until Carson Palmer broke his arm against the Los Angeles Rams in London and was lost for the season.

49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?


49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?

Believe it or not, the 49ers’ offense is improved from last season.

The 49ers ranked 31st in the NFL in 2016, averaging 308.1 yards per game. Although the offense is producing just a little better (325.9 yards per game), their ranking this season has shot up to 21st in the league.

The 49ers have had a different head coach and different person running the offense in each of the past four seasons, so their continuity has been severely lacking.

Next season, the 49ers should finally have carryover from one season to the next.

The direction of the offense is one of the topics addressed on this edition of 49ers Mailbag (questions were submitted via Facebook):

Now that we have Jimmy G do you see 49ers getting an offensive coordinator or will it still be Kyle calling the plays? (Julio Orozco)
I'm not sure why the arrival of Jimmy Garoppolo would have any impact on the 49ers’ offensive structure, but in any event, the answer is a resounding, “No.”

Kyle Shanahan has been hailed as one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL. The reason he was hired as 49ers head coach was, in large part, because of the success he achieved while designing offenses and calling plays.

Why would he give that up? It makes no sense.

Rob Demovsky of ESPN this week identified the 32 primary play-callers. There are 18 NFL head coaches with offensive backgrounds. Twelve of those coaches call their own plays.

Shanahan has a staff of assistant coaches on whom he leans. Passing game specialist Mike LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello are closely involved in working with Shanahan on the passing game, while running game specialist Mike McDaniel, offensive line coach John Benton and running backs coach Bobby Turner spearhead the involvement in the ground game.

But, make no mistake, it is Shanahan who calls the shots. And that's the way it should be. If Shanahan stepped aside as his own offensive coordinator, he would be diminishing his biggest strength as a coach.

What do you see happing with the Hyde situation? We drafted Joe Williams and Breida seems to be a bright spot. There’s a lot of talk about Barkley from Penn State with that high 1st rounder. (Manny Hinojos)
There does not seem to be any movement toward a long-term extension for Hyde. It is getting to the point in the season where it makes a lot more sense for Hyde to play out his contract and hit the open market.

There is no question in my mind the 49ers like Hyde a lot. He has scored some major points with the organization for his performance on the field and how he has responded off the field.

GM John Lynch loved it when Hyde came to the defense of quarterback C.J. Beathard, tussled with Arizona lineman Frostee Rucker and got ejected from the game.

That said, the 49ers are not going to break the bank for Hyde. A multi-year agreement has to come at the right price. My personal feeling is that running backs are luxury pieces when the remainder of a team’s roster -- especially the offensive line -- is set.

Shanahan and his father, Mike Shanahan, and Turner (the assistant coach who served on both of their staffs) have achieved a lot of success without investing heavily in running backs. That’s why I think the 49ers would be best-served by investing elsewhere and using another mid-round draft pick on a running back.

With Joshua Garnett coming back next season how aggressive will Lynch and Shanahan be in trying to get guards this offseason? (David Hartless)
Garnett is not a particularly good fit for this offensive scheme. The presence of Garnett can help increase the competition next offseason, but I do not believe he is being penciled in as a starter.

The 49ers will certainly be aggressive in an attempt to upgrade the guard positions. Currently, Laken Tomlinson and Brandon Fusco are the starters. Neither will be assured a starting job when the offseason begins.

The 49ers did not see enough from Garnett to determine he has a future with the organization, but he will be given the opportunity to come back healthy and prove himself.

Is Eric Reid in long-term plans? (Grant Rasmussen)
I do not believe so. I think the 49ers would like their starting safeties next season to be Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt – with Adrian Colbert as the front-runner for the No. 3 job.

The 49ers can also be expected to add a player or two in free agency, as well as the draft, to provide a competitive environment in the offseason. The 49ers seemed to telegraph their intention with Reid when they moved him to linebacker with Ward and Tartt remaining as the starting safeties.

That position change lasted about a week, as Ward’s injury prompted the team to move Reid back to safety. Reid is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. It's entirely possible there will not be a big market for him, but I do not believe the 49ers are going to be ultra-competitive in retaining him on the open market.