By Tom Williams
Most experts predicted that the lockout that shut down the NFL from March through August would take its biggest toll on teams with new head coaches and quarterback uncertainty.
Three weeks into the season, the San Francisco 49ers (2-1) have overcome some of those obstacles.
Quarterback Alex Smith doesn’t mind that his team threw an unusual road trip into the mix for the fourth game of the season. Smith sees it as a golden opportunity to concentrate on what matters most.
Instead of flying home to the West Coast after last Sunday’s 13-8 win in Cincinnati, the Niners are spending this week in the Mahoning Valley to prepare for the Philadelphia Eagles (1-2), a team many predicted would contend for the Super Bowl.
Smith said living this week in a hotel room ”is not a big deal, it just means some little adjustments. You find a way to focus on the football part of it.
“It’s different, it’s great to be around your teammates [full time],” Smith said. “It’s like a little training camp out here because you spend [more] time with each other in a new environment.
“It’s been a lot of fun. And my commute time is cut down as well — the walk up to the sixth floor from the fourth is pretty quick.
“There are advantages and disadvantages ... There will be some distractions but at the same time it was a chance to be with your teammates and focus on football.”
First-year Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh has embraced the unusual week with new ideas. Wednesday morning, Harbaugh took his offense outside of the Holiday Inn to the back parking lot for a walk-through session.
“You get excited when you get a good walk-through spot,” Harbaugh said. “Sometimes it’s in a hotel ballroom, sometimes it’s outside where people are looking.
“There were tall trees all around so it was very private there, it was one of the finer walk-throughs I’ve been associated with.”
Smith gave thumbs up to Youngstown State’s facilities at Stambaugh Stadium and the WATTS indoor center which the Niners are using for practices and workouts.
“We all came from college ... and [YSU] is definitely comparable,” Smith said. “We’re excited about that because you don’t know what to expect until you get over there and see them.”
Although Eagles quarterback Michael Vick’s status is questionable for Sunday’s game, Harbaugh said the team is preparing to face him.
“He’s a great player, the reason they are the second-leading rushing team in the National Football League is what he contributes on the ground,” Harbaugh said.
He inspired some laughs when he suggested “it might be prudent” for Eagles coach Andy Reid “to rest him.”
As for the Mahoning Valley, Harbaugh said the Niners “have been treated like kings and that doesn’t happen very often.”