Coming back is nothing new to former Utah and current San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.
At Utah, Smith’s career didn’t start brightly, entering the program in the spring — in the middle of his senior year of high school.
All he did after finally getting the opportunity to play with two games left in his freshman season was go 21-1 as a starter — and eventually lead the Utes to their first-ever BCS bowl game as a senior.
Then he was the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, and has endured a tumultuous pro career in which he’s seen multiple offensive coordinators, head coaches and football philosophies.
And now, Smith finds himself in the fight of his football playing life — again — after being unseated by Colin Kaepernick.
This much is clear: were it not for Smith’s untimely concussion in the second quarter of the 49ers tie against St. Louis, we may not even be discussing Smith’s future as an NFL quarterback in 2012.
But concussions being what they are — just ask Austin Collie, another college football standout in the state of Utah — it’s also clear that Smith’s time in San Francisco may be coming to an end.
The average playing career in the NFL lasts about six years for a rostered player, so with eight now under his belt Smith has surpassed that total.
But what likely irritates 49ers supporters is that Smith is so close to becoming the team’s next Steve Young — yet with this latest setback he probably seems so far from reaching that pinnacle.
Some blame his head coach, the fiery Jim Harbaugh, for Smith’s latest shortcomings while others blame Kaepernick, a 2nd year pro out of Nevada who has never played in a BCS bowl game — yet has a very unique skill set that allows Harbaugh and the 49ers to do things it couldn’t against opposition.
Kaepernick has spent most of his career as the 49ers “Wildcat” quarterback, playing sparingly.
What’s ironic about Harbaugh making such a change is that the very thing Kaepernick supposedly does better — such as run out of the read option — was also what Smith excelled at, at Utah in his senior year under then-head coach Urban Meyer, scoring 10 rushing touchdowns.
Of course, Smith is 28 years of age now — while Kaepernick is 25.
For all anyone knows, the change with the strong-armed scrambler in Kaepernick at quarterback could be temporary, but Smith — who has now overcome a concussion and two shoulder surgeries — may also be leaving San Francisco sooner rather than later.
And while a healthy Smith may wrap up his eighth season on the 49ers sideline it’s also true that the club just invested more money in the former Utah star.
Smith just signed a three-year deal worth $24 million this past offseason — after the Denver Broncos signed Peyton Manning, a player the 49ers were coveting when free agency talk heated up.
During that time Smith talked to the Miami Dolphins — but nothing came of that meeting, and Smith returned to San Francisco knowing he would play second fiddle to whomever came down the pike.
That person is Kaepernick at the moment.
Despite Smith’s 12,543 career yards passing and 68 touchdowns, all in a 49ers jersey, it is the former Nevada Wolf Pack star’s 680 passing yards in three games and four rushing touchdowns — which ties Smith’s career rushing TD total with the 49ers, ironically — that holds precedence during this quarterback controversy.
What is true is this: Smith is banged up but played the best football of his career in 2011, throwing for over 3,000 yards, 17 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
And what is also true is that Smith will still have other teams interested in his services in 2013 — even if Kaepernick becomes everything Harbaugh hoped Smith would be, and wasn’t.
The most ironic twist to the Smith saga is that at the time of his benching he led the NFL in passer rating at 104.3 and was leading the league in pass completion percentage at a 70 percent clip. He threw for over 1,700 yards — and yes, in what may be the final stats in his 49ers career, also threw just five interceptions.
So much for a career dropoff, right?
For more on Alex Smith, stay tuned to rootshed.com