NFC West: Chris Paul

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Reporters outnumbered players in the San Francisco 49ers' locker room before practice Tuesday.

That was the obvious marker suggesting a playoff game awaited the 49ers for the first time since Alex Smith was an 18-year-old at the University of Utah.

Smith and the other 49ers available during the 49ers' media session projected calm and confidence. There was an instance of glibness from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, steady resolve from linebacker Patrick Willis and hints of the Jim Harbaugh-inspired defiance that has crept into Smith's demeanor at times.

If the 49ers aren't yet weary of hearing about the Saints' sizzling offense, they soon will be. The Saints-related questions have been nearly as prolific as Drew Brees himself. Smith had this to say when asked about matching Brees yard for yard: "I'm looking to outscore him. He can throw for as many yards as he wants to."

Smith and Brees share the same agent and work out together in San Diego on occasion. They're friends. Smith said the Saints' offense is something others can aspire to. But he also made it clear he's focused on what the 49ers need to do, nothing more. Others can worry about finding the right adjectives to describe the Saints' artistry.

Willis, one of the great defensive players of his era, faced questions about the challenges associated with defending second-year Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. These were fair questions. Graham is coming off a 99-catch season. But Willis hasn't done too poorly for himself either, earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors five times in five seasons.

"Jimmy Graham is a good tight end," Willis said. "All this year, we've faced some good tight ends with the teams we have played. He is certainly one of their offensive threats and we have to make sure we know where he is at all times. At the end of the day, we just have to play defense."

Over in a back corner of the locker room, tight end Delanie Walker spoke clearly but without animation while reflecting on the broken jaw that will keep him from playing Saturday. It would have been easy to cast Walker as subdued and melancholy for his unfortunate timing, but his injury discouraged facial movement.

The 49ers hope Walker might return in time to help the team if San Francisco advances deeper into the playoffs. Walker has been cleared to eat solids and said his jaw no longer hurts.

On a lighter note, Fangio drew laughter by dropping a Chris Paul reference when suggesting the Saints' versatile running back, Darren Sproles, should have remained with San Diego.

"I can't believe they got him for the cheap price that they got him for to replace Reggie Bush," Fangio said. "If it was the NBA, the commissioner might have stepped in and stopped that move."

Receiver Michael Crabtree said little of substance — Harbaugh doesn't want players or coaches providing anything an opponent might find substantive — but he did confirm a purchase for his sometimes unfashionable head coach.

"That was his birthday gift, a Jordan sweatsuit," Crabtree said. "Our receivers walk around in our hoodies. He was looking at me and he was like, 'Man, you've got to get me a hoody.' It took me about 4-5 weeks, but I got him one."

The 49ers are beginning practice momentarily. I'll be here all week. That's the initial feel.

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