SAN FRANCISCO ? Since he was drafted with the No.1 overall draft pick in 2005, Alex Smith has experienced a dearth of intense praise and slaps on the back.

He might have received the biggest compliment in his NFL career from an authority figure last week when 49ers coach Mike Singletary suggested Smith is, indeed, the organization?s quarterback of the future.

?It looks like he is developing very quickly into that quarterback that can be a special quarterback,? Singletary said.

When told of Singletary?s comment, Smith replied, ?It?s encouraging.?

But then he quickly shifted into reality mode. He knows if he?s going to become a quarterback seen around the league in that light, he is going to require a lot of help.

?I?ve talked to Singletary about this ? to be a great offense, an effective offense, you have to be able to do it all,? Smith said. ?You cannot be one dimensional. You still have to be able to run the ball.

?If you look at the Colts (last week against the 49ers), I think you saw our defense really take away their run. We made them one dimensional, and that was probably the least effective they?ve been all year.?

The 49ers enter today?s game against the Tennessee Titans at Candlestick Park on a three-game losing streak, and losers of four of their past five games. And while most eyes will be on quarterbacks Smith and Vince Young, the game might ultimately be decided on which team establishes the more formidable run attack.

The 49ers have struggled this season to gain consistency with its run game. Running back Frank Gore has hit three home runs ? touchdown runs of 80, 79 and 64 yards. But there have also been an alarming number of whiffs.

Tennessee has experienced grand success on the ground this season, as second-year back Chris Johnson leads the NFL with 824 yards (6.9 average) on 119 carries. That has not translated into a lot of wins, as the Titans enter today?s game with a 1-6 record.

Johnson will meet his match today against a stout 49ers? front seven that ranks second in the league against the run despite having already faced Minnesota?s Adrian Peterson and St. Louis? Steven Jackson, who are tied for second in the league with 784 yards rushing.

?To have played teams like Atlanta, St. Louis and Minnesota and be where they?re ranked against the run is very, very impressive,? Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. ?And that?s not a misleading statistic. They?re very sound and they play well.?

The 49ers have not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. The opposition has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry through the first seven games.

The key to the 49ers? success has been outstanding play from defensive linemen Aubrayo Franklin, Justin Smith and Isaac Sopoaga, which has allowed linebacker Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes to roam free and make tackles.

?We pride ourselves on stopping the run first, and making teams have to pass,? Willis said. ?That?s our goal, to make them one-dimensional.?

Niners defensive coordinator Greg Manusky likens Johnson?s style to Peterson, who gained 85 yards on 13 rushing attempts in their meeting this season.

?He (Johnson) has great speed and great vision,? Manusky said. ?He sees things and can react fast. He breaks a lot of tackles. He is a very good back. He is explosive. He sees the hole and he can strike and run.?

Whichever team runs the ball more effectively will give their quarterback a better opportunity to shine.

It has been awhile since Smith has been afforded the platform to flourish in front of the home fans. Today?s game marks his first regular-season home start since Oct. 28, 2007, against the New Orleans Saints when he tried unsuccessfully to play with a grade-3 right shoulder separation.

It is also his first opportunity to begin to win back the fan support and start the process of proving he is capable of carrying the 49ers? offense into the future.

?I think he?s smart enough to not look back at the past and understand that fan reaction is going to be typical around the league,? Singletary said. ?Every time that we?ve had a conversation, he?s just really excited about the opportunity to be a starting NFL quarterback again for this organization.?

For more on the 49ers, go to Instant 49ers at http://blog.pressdemocrat.com/49ers. You can reach Staff Writer Matt Maiocco via e-mail at matt.maiocco@pressdemocrat.com.