Harbaugh takes a close look at Alex Smith


PART 1: HARBAUGH'S JUGGLING ACTEditor's note: This is Part 2 of a three-part series taking a look at Jim Harbaugh's first month as 49ers' head coach. This installment looks at the 49ers' quarterback situation, and how Harbaugh is forming his own opinion of Alex Smith without any outside influence.Matt MaioccoCSNBayArea.comQuarterback Alex Smith rolled a hand truck into the 49ers' locker room the day after the season ended to assist in the process of clearing out the clutter from a locker he occupied for the past six years.
He appeared ready to get a fresh start in an NFL locale where his mere appearance on his home field does not elicit boos.But the new coach of the 49ers might try to convince Alex Smith to stick around. Jim Harbaugh, on the job for one month, has studied Smith as a player and has gotten to know him as a person.In fact, Harbaugh and Smith have met several times face-to-face. And they have even gone out together to the practice field behind the team's Santa Clara complex."Yeah," Harbaugh told Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, "we were out on the field -- just two guys throwing the ball around."Asked whether he used his on-field interaction with Smith as a chance to work on mechanics and fundamentals or whether it was just a way to break the ice, Harbaugh answered, "Both.""I've had a couple meetings with him," Harbaugh said. "It's been good. And I look forward to continuing that (this week) when he's back in town."Smith is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason for the first time in his career. When free agency begins, Smith will be allowed to speak with other teams and weigh his options before signing a contract. The 49ers hold sole negotiating rights with Alex Smith through March 3.
MAIOCCO: 49ers must have multiple QB plans
Veteran David Carr is the only 49ers' quarterback who has a contract with the club for 2011. Like Alex Smith, Troy Smith is scheduled for free agency this offseason. Nate Davis, who spent last season on the practice squad, had no contractual ties to the 49ers and has already signed a futures contract with the Seattle Seahawks."Right now, as you look at it, there's only one quarterback on the roster," Harbaugh said. "We got to look at all possibilities. That's my job -- to make the best possible evaluation for the organization."And part of that evaluation, Harbaugh says, is to not allow the opinions of others to influence him.The home fans vocally expressed their displeasure with Alex Smith last season. And, now, they see how local product Aaron Rodgers, from the same draft class, has ascended to stardom as the Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.
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Can Alex Smith succeed with the 49ers? Does he need a change of scenery to continue his NFL career? Those questions are irrelevant to Harbaugh, he said."My job is to make evaluations and come to my own conclusions at every position, as it relates to the entire football team," Harbaugh said. "And I like to make those on my own without outside influences."General manager Trent Baalke, who has the final say over the 49ers' 53-man roster, seemingly made it clear where he stood last month in comments to Pro Football Talk."Is the quarterback of the future on this roster?" Baalke said on Jan. 11. "I think it's obvious that he isn't at this point."Harbaugh's reaction?"It was factual," he said. "The only quarterback on the roster right now is David Carr. So take that as a factual statement. The quarterback of the future is not on the roster right now. We're talking about multiple guys we need to get on the roster."Technically, Alex Smith is still on the 49ers' roster until March 3. But, of course, he will need a new contract to play again for the team that drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2005.Alex Smith had six different offensive coordinators in his first six NFL seasons. He has not played for an offensive-minded head coach while with the 49ers. Then-coach Mike Singletary benched Alex Smith for the franchise's most important game of their eight-season playoff drought.Singletary called on Troy Smith to start a must-win game against the St. Louis Rams on Dec. 26. But Troy Smith struggled, and Alex Smith was inserted into the game in the second half of the team's 25-17 loss that knocked the 49ers out of playoff contention.Alex Smith started 10 games last season for the 49ers and compiled a career-best 82.1 passer rating. The 49ers were 3-3 in Troy Smith's starts, but he completed just 50.3 percent of his attempts and had a passer rating of 77.8.Harbaugh's brother, John, included Troy Smith among his final cuts before the start of the 2010 season. The Ravens elected to stick with two quarterbacks -- Joe Flacco and Marc Bulger -- rather than carry Troy Smith as the No. 3.When asked specifically about Troy Smith, Jim Harbaugh answered, "Like everybody, I don't want to get into each specific guy. But that's also my job to evaluate the same with everybody."Certainly, a huge part of Harbaugh's offseason will consist of finding an answer at quarterback. Harbaugh has clearly kept the door open for Alex Smith's return. And the list of veterans who might become available in free agency or via trades includes such players as Kevin Kolb, Carson Palmer, Kyle Orton and Donovan McNabb."You have to understand, we're trying to look at every possibility with your football team, in terms of talent and acquired talent," Harbaugh said. "And those are the ways, through free agency, draft, trade and coaching your own players You have to put together a specific plan for improvement."In addition to the acquisition of a veteran or two, the 49ers can be expected to select a quarterback in the seven-round draft, which is scheduled for April 28-30.
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Harbaugh, who played quarterback for 15 NFL seasons, will have plenty of time over the next 11 weeks to thoroughly scout the prospects. The 49ers' top three scheduled draft picks are at Nos. 7, 45 and 76 overall."We're working on free agency," he said, "and the draft will ramp up as we get closer to the combine."In the final of the three-part series Tuesday, Jim Harbaugh becomes familiar with roster he inherited, and he begins the process of designing the team's schemes.What's your take? Email Matt and let him know. He may use it in his Mailbag.

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