Mercury News,Gary Reyes, AP Photo
Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers declines to talk to the media following a closed mini-camp in Spartan Stadium at San Jose State University, Monday June 6, 2011.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Alex Smith is playing the part of quarterback, coach and even part-time media relations liaison this summer for the San Francisco 49ers.
As if that wasn't odd enough, Smith isn't even a member of the team at the moment.
The past and apparently future 49ers quarterback is a free agent, although anybody at San Jose State's stadium this week would never know. Smith is hosting informal workouts with more than two dozen 49ers players — mostly on the offensive side — and he can't re-sign with the team until the NFL lockout is lifted.
"Camp Alex," offensive lineman Joe Staley said Tuesday following the second day of workouts. "I mean, he's organized everything. My job was to get all the linemen. His job was to get all the skill players.
"He's worked on the script and he's running the meetings. He's shown a lot of leadership this summer as far as keeping everybody together and really communicating with everybody."
Even in this anything-goes offseason, the 49ers have one of the more interesting player gatherings.
Smith is going over the playbook new coach Jim Harbaugh gave him during the brief court-ordered end to the lockout in late April, a risky move if the 2005 No. 1 overall pick decides to go elsewhere in free agency. But Harbaugh has welcomed Smith back, and the quarterback is all but certain to stay in the Bay Area.
Smith is in the classroom drawing up plays on the whiteboard, running video sessions and directing practices. All the key offensive players on the roster are participating except for running back Frank Gore, who is still recovering from a hip injury suffered last year.
Michael Crabtree, who has questioned whether Smith will be the starting quarterback next season, did not practice with the team Tuesday because he had sore feet from running with new cleats on the field turf a day earlier, players said. The wide receiver was in the classroom session in the morning.
Yet there are no coaches to explain the playbook, no horns, no clocks, no anything, really. Smith has handed out daily itineraries to players detailing everything from the time to lift weights, study and practice — even breaking up in study groups by position.
If players have a question, they ask Smith.
"That's what quarterbacks are supposed to do. That's what you want him to do. You want him to be that leader," tight end Vernon Davis said. "Any time you have any questions offensively, you should go to Alex. He should break everything down to you."
While players credit Smith's leadership this summer, whether he can be a successful quarterback for San Francisco remains a mystery.
There's little from his past play to suggest he will be the franchise's long-term solution. The 49ers haven't had a winning season or reached the playoffs since 2002, and inconsistency at quarterback might be the biggest reason why.
Former coach Mike Singletary rotated Alex Smith, Troy Smith and David Carr almost every week last season. Carr is the only quarterback still on the roster, and second-round pick Colin Kaepernick will join him whenever football begins.
This summer will either be the highlight of Smith's turnaround or the beginning of another downfall. While many 49ers fans groan at another season with Smith at quarterback, players believe he is making unprecedented strides.
Take the first day of the minicamp: Smith also played the part of security guard and public relations coordinator, asking reporters to wait outside the gates. When they refused, he stayed firm, saying they wouldn't practice until they left. Then Smith negotiated and agreed to open portions of practices.
"Maybe he is a little bit more edgier," offensive lineman Adam Snyder said.
Smith said he will not make any public comments until the workouts conclude Thursday. He has hosted smaller, private workouts with some 49ers players this summer and has tried to stay clear of the public eye and free agency talk.
comments on this story
Smith has already asked Staley to help him organize another informal minicamp later this month if there is not a new collective bargaining agreement between owners and players. Between the two of them, they have tried to make sure every player has the opportunity to attend.
Some rookies are staying with veterans, who have helped pay for travel and other expenses. Others have prior commitments and might not be able to make every practice.
If nothing else, players believe "Camp Alex" will help with camaraderie.
"I think it's one of the things you miss this offseason, just team building," Staley said. "And I think this is definitely beneficial, laying the foundation for the season."