Torrey Smith stepping into leadership role for 49ers

Heading into his second training camp with the San Francisco 49ers, wide receiver Torrey Smith is more than just the team’s primary target in the passing game. He’s their leader.

With the departure Anquan Boldin, Smith has found himself as the veteran presence of a receiving group chalked full of young talent who will be vying for the No. 2 wideout spot on the season.

Although Smith struggled to gain footing in a new offense under Jim Tomsula last season, he’s relishing his newfound role as a leader of Chip Kelly’s high-octane offense which will rely even more heavily on the speedster’s ability to break through the opponents coverage.

Said Smith:

“We want to make sure we’re doing things the right way, trying to lead by example. Everyone works their tails off, that’s not an issue. Everyone wants to do the right thing and be great. Everyone has the talent, it’s just about putting it together and going out there and doing it.”

Smith — who signed a five-year, $40 million contract in the 2015 offseason — will also try to improve on a dismal performance last year, in which the receiver saw a career low in targets, receptions and yards.

While a lot has been made about the toll of Kelly’s offense on the player’s physically, and it’s predictability, Smith seemed optimistic about his new head coach’s scheme, saying:

“You’re moving a lot. The tempo, once you get used to it, it’s definitely a competitive advantage. It’s not like he’s up there drawing up plays in the sand that are brand new, but just the way he puts things together, it seems [good].”

Smith hasn’t waited around in looking to advance on last year’s stats either, having already worked out with some of the fellow 49ers receivers, and quarterback Blaine Gabbert, prior to camp at San Jose State University.

But without a productive No. 2 receiver, Smith may still be in a rough year. Without a legitimate threat on the opposite end of the field, opposing backfields will be able to hone in on Smith in the secondary, leading to the potential of another poor year.

With both the receivers and the quarterbacks struggling in 2015, opposing defenses were also able to stack the box on the 49ers run game. Until the 49ers prove that they can beat other team’s through the air, they’ll likely see more of this in 2016.

But despite what may be seen as a sign of disrespect for Smith and the receiving core, the new leader of the unit hopes that opposing defenses take that route again in the upcoming year:

“I hope so. I don’t know if that’s gonna be the case, but I hope that’s the case because we trust ourselves to go out there and make plays.”

Players vying to line up opposite of Smith include receivers Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, Jerome Simpson and Aaron Burbridge to name a few.


Shawn Whelchel is SFBay’s San Francisco 49ers beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of 49ers football.