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Harbaugh: QB Decision Coming Soon

Posted Nov 26, 2012

It’s not quite “The Decision” LeBron James made before he left the Cleveland Cavaliers to take his talents to the bright lights of South Beach, but for Bay Area sports fans, it’s becoming close.

Jim Harbaugh has two hot-handed quarterbacks and must decide who will be his starter when the 49ers face the St. Louis Rams this Sunday for the second time in four weeks.

Alex Smith is now cleared for contact and believes he should keep his starting role.

Second-year backup Colin Kaepernick emerged when Smith was sidelined with a concussion, winning his first two starts in difficult circumstances. (link)

The 49ers coach hasn’t finalized his decision on who will start against the Rams. On Monday, Harbaugh said he’ll wait until he’s spoken to the team about it. Players have the day off and won’t hit the practice fields until Wednesday.

He also doesn’t want his players being asked about it repeatedly before a key divisional game.

Harbaugh anticipates having a plan in place before then so practice reps can go to the quarterback in line to start.

“It starts with this week, this game, what gives our team the best chance to win,” Harbaugh explained of his decision-making rationale.

Still, Harbaugh, a veteran NFL quarterback in his own right, understands what Smith’s going through. He also knows just how much talent he has at the position.

“Alex Smith is our starting quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “He’s not done anything to lose that job. He’s playing at a high level.”

Before being sidelined, Smith led the NFL in completion percentage and had the third-best quarterback rating. In his absence, Kaepernick has thrown three touchdowns and rushed for another score in two starts.

Because of those efforts in victories over quality opponents (Chicago and New Orleans), Harbaugh can’t help but see the upside his 6-foot-4, 230-pound quarterback possesses.

“You can’t categorize Kaepernick as a backup,” Harbaugh said, pointing out it’s a unique situation that the 49ers have quality options at the position.

The 49ers coach also noted that it’s unlike other quarterback quandaries around the league in that both players aren’t struggling.

“Both have had a hot-hand,” Harbaugh said before mentioning that the position has been shared this season by the two players much like Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter splitting reps at running back.

For now, Harbaugh can only evaluate what he’s seen from Kaepernick in recent weeks compared to Smith’s steady tenure as his starter. Smith’s healthy now which also adds to the decision.

“They’re great team guys,” Harbaugh stressed. “We need them both.”

Harbaugh also peeled back the onion (his term) to shed light on his experience in quarterback conundrums.

“This is a unique situation to my experience,” Harbaugh said.

Nonetheless, Harbaugh has appreciated the way Smith, an eight-year veteran, has handled the rare circumstance San Francisco is currently experiencing.

Harbaugh especially liked the way Smith said he wanted to be the starter when asked after the Saints win, but also pointed out it’s sort of a lose-lose situation. If you say you don’t want to play, it’s looked at negatively. If you say you do, it’s looked at in a selfish manner.

No matter, Harbaugh only cares about the opinions of those inside of 4949 Centennial Blvd., the team’s Santa Clara headquarters.

“He’s a class act all the way,” Harbaugh said of Smith. “That’s why he was voted captain by our players.”

There’s no question the 49ers will have big decisions to make leading up to the second meeting with St. Louis this season.

But it also extends past the quarterback position.

Slot receiver and return man Kyle Williams suffered a knee injury against the Saints and later tweeted that he’d torn his ACL, ending his third NFL season. The team has not officially announced the findings of Williams or Hunter’s X-ray results.

In addition, Hunter suffered an ankle injury in the win over New Orleans.

Both injuries could open the door for young players on the roster to be promoted to the active gameday roster. The team’s first two 2012 draft picks, A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James, could benefit from the situation, but they’ll have to earn the opportunity first.

“There’s a good chance we’ll have some new active guys on Sunday,” Harbaugh said. “The opportunity is coming.”

Now, it’s only a matter of time before knowing who will be the one under center to potentially get the ball to those rookies should they be active against the Rams.

The decision will be coming soon.

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