SANTA CLARA -- Can you hear me now? Yes, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith now can clearly hear play calls, unlike past years.
The league has revamped its on-field communication system between coaches and quarterbacks this season, much to the 49ers' relief.
How bad was it last year?
"There was one time when I was doing it, and it happened to be on the same frequency as an airline in a certain city," offensive coordinator Greg Roman recalled. "It was a critical situation in the game, and all you hear is Southwest pilots talking."
Aside from frequency interference, communication got terminated in the midst of some play calls, coach Jim Harbaugh said. Why? "We were never given a response to that question," Harbaugh said.
Smith said of the old radio system: "It even happened at home sometimes. It was a touchy deal. It'd go in and out. It happened on the road more often."
Roman called the new system very efficient, adding: "You push the button. You talk. They hear, and here we go."
As for that Southwest plane, did Roman help land it? "Never checked to see if it got in."
"This is a strong man, and he plays with incredible leverage," Harbaugh said. "But he plays like a guy fighting to make the roster. That's a rare combination."
Smith was a bystander for Thursday's practice, and while it was believed to be a so-called veteran's day off, he snuffed out any concerns of a potential injury by vigorously attacking Friday's practice.
"Justin sets the tempo with his work ethic," defensive lineman Ray McDonald said. "He's a leader of this defense, knows the game, and guys want to follow someone like that."
Smith's credentials jumped up a notch last season: He not only earned first-team Associated Press All-Pro status as a defensive tackle but also made second-team All-Pro at defensive end.