I don’t think there was ever a question there. I think it’s just a lot of gobble gobble turkey. Just gobble, gobble, gobble turkey from jive turkey gobblers … that paints a pretty good picture. He’s a very confident guy.
– Jim Harbaugh on Alex Smith’s confidence.
On the same day he declined to publicly name a starting quarterback, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh informed incumbent Alex Smith that Colin Kaepernick would get the nod Sunday at New Orleans, a source told SI.com.
– SI.com’s Jim Trotter, last Wedmesday.
Colin we believe has the hot hand. We’ll go with Colin.
– Jim Harbaugh, this Wednesday.
Just another sunny day, in California…and on Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers. I could’ve pulled out any number of Smith-centric positive comments that Harbaugh has made since he took the 49ers Head Coach job on the 7th January 2011. Look at them, and you’d be perfectly inclined to yell ‘WHAT THE HELL?’ at the news story contained within the second and third ones. How can a man who has always publicly preached confidence in Smith, rebuilt the man’s game, rebuilt the fans’ confidence in him, and made him play to the level where only a costly Kyle Williams fumble and defeat in overtime keeps him from a Superbowl, then bench him for what could end up a flash in the pan, once NFL defenses catch up? I can answer that. It’s just another day in the mad, mad, world of Jim Harbaugh. The mad, mad world which has (along with my health) deep-sixed many of my attempted columns for several months, with things changing on a game by game, sometimes day by day, basis, making it very hard to stick to a column.
However, this isn’t lunacy, or even crazy genius. By Harbaugh’s standards, it’s not anywhere near either. It’s hardly running fly sweeps, or throwing passes to Joe Staley and Issac Sopoaga. It’s just right. The conventional wisdom would be to react as I said in the paragraph above – you already have a well-established starter, who was but two or three plays away from a Superbowl last year, so why on earth change anything? A large part of this line of thinking is ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ – not necessarily bad wisdom. It would also be pretty hard to argue anything was broken – Smith had not only made a pretty good start to the year, but in the game he left against the Rams, he continued his hot streak going back to the Cardinals game. Indeed, what may prove to be his last pass as a 49er was a touchdown. There was no 2nd season under Harbaugh slump, he had continued with much the same consistency as the year before, and the offense was probably even moving (without checking and regurgiating statistics) slightly better, particularly with the games against the Bills and Jets under consideration.
But, while I see the logic in those statements, it’s my job to tell you what I believe. And I 100% believe Jim Harbaugh is correct. Let me explain why. You’ve seen me elsewhere on here say explicitly that I thought Smith had, at best, two years left in the starting job. Let’s face it, Baalke/Harbaugh didn’t trade up for a guy not to use him at some point. I think we all knew that, eventually, we’d be writing about Kaepernick starting at Quarterback. So there’s that. It is unfortunate for both Smith and the NFL that he’s lost his job merely through reporting a concussion, but, bluntly, those are the rules, and who cares? The NFL is a cut-throat business, and that’s how it works. Go ask Patriots fans if they still feel sorry for Drew Bledsoe. Seems a bit unlikely to me, and no one’s going to feel sorry for Smith if Kaepernick hoists the trophy in New Orleans either. On a playing level, there were quite clearly some throws made on Sunday against the Saints (one to a well-covered Delanie Walker, for example) that would just not have been within Smith’s ability level. Even on touchdown plays such as his zone-read run, or a 45 yard pass to Delanie Walker, you see the offense reach a level it hasn’t seemed capable of under Smith. I think Harbaugh feels that way too.
You can see, watching the 49ers now, that the offense more closely resembles the Stanford offense that so excited us when we were interested in Harbaugh in the first place. Punishing. Explosive. All in the same package. I believe that only Kaepernick can provide that, and when it comes down to it in the playoffs, we cannot expect the fates to fall the same way again. Last year, we rode a relatively mediocre offense to the NFC Championship Game before being found out. One pass to a receiver for three yards should not even put you in a football game. With Kaepernick, not only do you have his ability to make more explosive plays down the field, but you also add the relatively unique ability to make plays with his legs. All this ensures that, come the playoffs, a debacle like the Giants game on offense won’t happen again. In today’s NFL, where offensive production is a must (there are no 2000 Ravens any more), the move to Kaepernick, while strange to many on a Superbowl-chasing team, could actually be the final push over the top. That’s where I stand on it. Harbaugh’s got it right.
Having said all that, just for balance, and just in case, let me add the last bit of the 3rd quote, Harbaugh’s missive on Wednesday:
And we’ll go with Alex. They’re both our guys.
So at the end of all this, I still don’t know what, ultimately, happens long-term. My thinking is Kaepernick continues to play well, solidifies his hold on the job, and that’s the last we’ll see of Smith in San Francisco. But it’s the mad world of Jim Harbaugh. You never know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if’ll make sense, I don’t know if it’ll be conventional wisdom – but I do have a feeling, all in all, it will prove to be the right decision for the San Francisco 49ers.
Til next time. Which will be sooner, I promise.