- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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That was the word Wednesday night from Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated. Later, Smith told ESPN analyst and former teammate Trent Dilfer that coach Jim Harbaugh had merely told him "Kaepernick would get first-team reps but door open to start game based on practice," ESPN senior producer Seth Markman tweeted, citing a conversation with Dilfer.
I see no reason for Harbaugh to limit his options unnecessarily. Smith has not yet been cleared to return. As a result, the team could conceivably use the concussion as cover to evaluate Kaepernick for another week.
Why make a clean break from Smith without knowing what might happen with Kaepernick against New Orleans on Sunday? Perhaps the coaching staff knows what it has in Kaepernick and sees massive potential for improvement, now and in the long term. They certainly had to like what they saw during a 32-7 victory over Chicago.
Harbaugh suggested a change was possible following Kaepernick's sensational starting debut Monday night. The ramifications of the move Trotter reported would carry significant weight. The report jolted fans as the news got around.
"Pretty surprised that Harbaugh went this way," Cwing49ers tweeted. "I feel like this could undo a lot of good things."
Smith has completed 25 of his 27 most recent passes.
"I don't dispute what they think," @Darth_Raggy said, "but with current guy producing like that now is not the time for change."
Smith completed all but one pass against Arizona in his most recent full game. The NFL named him the offensive player of the week for the NFC.
"Didn't he just go 18 for 19 2 games ago?" @BigCandy83 wrote. "Amazing how fast your role can change in this league. I feel bad for Alex."
Harbaugh has been a strong supporter of Smith, but the 49ers also allowed Smith to hit free agency last offseason. While Smith was away, they showed interest in Peyton Manning. The team then re-signed Smith to a deal worth far less than what top quarterbacks command. Trading up to draft Kaepernick in 2011 stands as one of the first and most important personnel moves the 49ers made after hiring Harbaugh as head coach.
"I feel so bad for Alex Smith," @Moonmonster_32. "I lost ALL my respect for Jim Harbaugh."
We still need to hear from Harbaugh, of course. He hasn't announced anything. But fans found it hard to resist reacting.
The San Francisco 49ers are starting Colin Kaepernick on merit and not simply because Alex Smith remains unavailable while recovering from a concussion.