The Mercury News

Smith upbeat despite slow start to season

- By Cam Inman cinman@bayareanew­

SANTA CLARA — Torrey Smith, the 49ers’ projected No. 1 receiver, has only nine catches through four games.

Same as last season. Same 32nd-ranked pass offense. Same 1-3 record for the 49ers.

Smith, ever the optimist, doesn’t feel he’s headed for a repeat of last season’s woes.

“Because it can’t be any worse than last year,” said Smith, who had a career-low 33 receptions in 2015 after four solid seasons as the Baltimore Ravens’ deep threat.

Smith’s frustratio­ns last year were evident by midseason,

particular­ly when he threw a fit and waved his arms when Colin Kaepernick failed to see him wide open in St. Louis. In this past Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Smith again couldn’t hide his displeasur­e, throwing his helmet after Blaine Gabbert’s deep pass to him veered off target and got intercepte­d.

Smith, somehow, maintains a positive outlook.

“I look at it: I’m only 27 years old, I’m young, I’m still very fast. I’m still getting open,” Smith added. “I’ve just got to make plays when the ball comes my way, and I will.”

The balls haven’t arrived in bulk as envisioned when he signed one of the richest free-agent deals in 49ers’ history (five years, $40 million) in March 2015.

Coaches have changed. Quarterbac­ks have changed. Smith’s production generally has not.

“A lot of it just depends on how people play us and what they’re doing,” coach Chip Kelly said. “We’ve gotten a lot of man coverage out there. Sometimes people are leaning safeties towards his side.

“So, we’re taking advantage of what’s going on.” Are they, though? The 49ers average a league-low 178.8 passing yards per game, and Gabbert ranks 32nd with mark of 6.1 yards per pass attempt.

Smith’s nine receptions (on 22 targets) have him tied for 130th in the NFL. His average of 11.8 yards per catch is far off last season’s league-leading clip of 20.1. He has one touchdown, in a Week 2 blowout loss at Carolina.

“I judge myself, ‘Did I maximize every opportunit­y?’ I say it’s been alright in terms of that,” Smith said. “Obviously there haven’t been as many opportunit­ies. But I’ve got to stay ready.”

He did exactly that in Sunday’s 24-17 loss to the Cowboys, with disastrous results.

Gabbert did not throw Smith’s way until the fourth quarter, when Smith broke free on a post route. Gabbert’s 45-yard heave, however, was off target, underthrow­n and intercepte­d.

“That’s on me,” Gabbert said. “I’ve got to throw that ball to the middle of the field and let him go get it.”

“We all make mistakes,” Smith said Monday of the throw. “We’ve hit on that play a lot in practice . ... Obviously I’m sure Blaine will tell you that wasn’t the best ball, and that happens sometimes.”

Gabbert only sought out Smith once more, unloading a fourth-and-6 pass for just a 3-yard gain on the 49ers’ final, failed offensive snap.

Smith said he was the “dead last option” on that play, and Kelly confirmed that Smith was the only open receiver, one who accurately did his task of readjustin­g his route once Gabbert got flushed from the pocket.

Smith’s stat line Sunday: 3 yards on one reception and two targets.

Julio Jones’ line for the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday: 300 yards on 12 receptions and 15 targets.

Smith and Jones are both 27, and both are in their sixth season. Stop the comparison­s there. Smith plays for the league’s worst passing attack; Jones for the best behind quarterbac­k Matt Ryan (126.3 rating; No. 1 in league).

“I don’t want to say I get jealous of anybody, because that’s a friend of mine and I’m very happy for him,” Smith said of Jones. “You’re not surprised. But you get to see when you take chances, you get big rewards. They did a good job capitalizi­ng. It was crazy.”

Once the 49ers did not re-sign his close friend, Anquan Boldin, Smith became the veteran leader of an unheralded receiving corps, a six-man unit in which Smith and Quinton Patton are the only holdovers from last season. Newcomers on board: Jeremy Kerley, Rod Streater, Aaron Burbridge and Keshawn Martin.

Kerley, acquired Aug. 29 from the Detroit Lions, leads the 49ers with 18 catches for 202 yards and one touchdown. That’s nearly twice as much production than Smith, and Sunday’s game plan favored Kerley.

“We thought we’d attack the nickel a lit bit more and that’s what we did and that was kind of our game plan,” Kelly said. “And if it wasn’t the nickel, then it was the tight end on the safety.

“So, sometimes, it’s just how the matchups go in a game.”

And sometimes the games don’t go the way the 49ers or Smith want.

 ??  ?? “I’ve just got to make plays when the ball comes my way, and I will,” he said. Smith
“I’ve just got to make plays when the ball comes my way, and I will,” he said. Smith

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