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Coach's Notebook: Nov. 23



Coach Jim Harbaugh addressed the media Friday before the 49ers hopped on a plane to New Orleans for their Week 12 matchup on Sunday.Any word yet on who your starting quarterback's going to be on Sunday?**

"No. We feel like there's no competitive advantage for us to release that information, for our organization or for our team."

Is there a competitive advantage in not releasing that information?
"Possibly. Not saying that, maybe it's a one percent maybe, small percentage."

But that's significant?
"Could be. We'll chase that, sure. Just don't see the significant—just like at any position. We just do not get into what the role's going to be, how we're going to use them, and the specifics of that."

Do the quarterbacks know who the starter is?
"Again with that information we'll just not release."

Meaning they don't know?
"Meaning, no comment on that."

TE Vernon Davis intimated yesterday that today would be the day that the team would find out and you would announce it just so everybody goes there knowing what's expected. Are you comfortable with the level of knowledge that the whole team has on the subject?
"Again, it's just not something we think is an advantage for us to talk about. And you may have your opinions on it. It's unorthodox. So be it. You can call me names if you want, or make sport of me. But, that's the way we're going to go about it."

Has QB Alex Smith been cleared?
"Alex went through his final test today. And will be cleared tomorrow, if tomorrow again there are no symptoms. And it's been good. He hasn't had any symptoms since Tuesday. So, that's a real positive."

On Wednesday there was a report that you had already spoken to Alex. And there was a quoting on Sports Illustrated that quoting you telling Alex saying, 'I'm going with  Kaepernick. Alex, I'm sorry.' Did that happen?
"Not factual. Not factual. And I know there are probably a lot of reports out there. [49ers director of public relations] Bob [Lange] brought some of them to my attention. Really I didn't see any that were factual that he showed me, including that one. And again, we could set our watch here for another 10, 15 minutes if you want and you could keep asking questions and the answers will still be the same."

How does RB Frank Gore look for Sunday?
"How does Frank look?"

"Good. He had a good week at practice. And champing at the bit as always."

Any chance we'll see RB Brandon Jacobs this weekend?
"That's possible. Again, we don't get into the specifics of the game plan, or how we're going to use people."

Having played in Minnesota, is there any advantage of playing going to a dome for the second time in the season and playing in an atmosphere like that?
"Yeah, possibly. It's going to be a hostile environment, loud. But, every week is loud when you're on the road. I understand that the domes are a little louder. So, believe that that experience will help us."

Is that something that you prepare for by bringing in noise or anything like that extra compared to any other game because it is a dome?
"Pretty much, yeah. Prepared with the noise all week long. Darn near every offensive snap we had noise this week."

But is that different than when you do it any other game?
"If it was a road game?"

"Maybe just a little bit more this week."

I was saying, so much of the attention has been on the quarterbacks. But, your running game could be a big deal. The Saints rank 32nd in the league against the run. But, they've indicated they're improving in that area. Can you see them making strides? LB Jonathan Vilma's back. Can you see them making strides in that area?
"Most definitely. The team is playing high-level football on offense, on defense, on special teams. Where you rank, you find some statistic where they rank, in the 20's, or the 30's, or they're number one, or in the teens. Experience every week is a new week. Every week is its own game, its own sprint. And I find that that doesn't matter, make that big of a difference very often. But, this week is its own challenge. And they are playing high-level football on the defensive side of the ball. And it'll be a difficult challenge for us. I've got a lot of respect for their team."

The last several weeks you guys have been playing a lot better coverage wise on special teams. Is there anything you can point to on why things have been coming together in that phase?
"I just think getting better. I knew we had the right coach. I knew we had the right guys on the teams. And I think that effort, that hard work, that creativity, opportunistic approach and just working together has paid off. Practice has made the guys better."

I understand that RB LaMichael James has been playing the role of Darren Sproles?
"Sproles, yeah."

That's a pretty good comparison, those two?
"Yeah, it really has. LaMichael's really benefitted a lot from … he's been a wide receiver a lot of times in practice and running back coming out of the backfield. His hands have improved so much and his route-running ability. I think it was quite a good look for our defense this week with LaMichael."

How's he doing catching the punts?
"He's still coming along, still coming along. But, his hands overall are definitely getting better and he's been working at it every day, every week. Kickoffs are a little easier than the punts."

How about RB Kendall Hunter? With the playoffs approaching, is there a chance of Hunter getting more reps and Frank Gore maybe getting a little less?
"Anything's possible. You don't predict it. And we don't really talk about what we're going to do. But, all those things are possible. And it's been pretty consistent how many reps they've been getting. But, each week is a new week."

The Saints defensive players have talked a little bit about just adjusting to Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's scheme, which I guess happened when he was first with the Giants. It took him a little while. Is there anything unique for their defense that it might be a process to pick up that scheme?
"Just looking at it from an offensive perspective if you look at it and know where that defense was last year with St. Louis and how intricate it was. And they had more volume and just to see how it's progressed up until now, yeah, you can see. I don't know the nuances and the complication of the calls, etc. or how tough it is to learn. But, you can definitely see it building and growing to what it was three years in at St. Louis. Not quite there yet. And then the third down package, just an encyclopedia of blitzes and looks and they do a tremendous job getting you off the field on third down."

Is there more zone blitzing under Spagnuolo than they did with former Saints defensive coordinator Greg Williams?

"Yeah, there are differences in the two schemes. And then there's been some carryover. You can see some of the fronts and defenses that they use have been he's incorporated some of Gregg Williams' style, of defense. But, this is much like the St. Louis defense that we saw twice last year, Spagnuolo's defense.

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