Harbaugh's three options at quarterback


Harbaugh's three options at quarterback

Colin Kaepernick did his part Monday night to create a healthy quarterback debate. And coach Jim Harbaugh added a little fuel to the discussion when he refused to say those words he had said so many times when there was even a sliver of doubt.But Harbaugh did not say, "Alex is our guy." And that is important to note.So now there's an honest-to-goodness quarterback decision that faces Harbaugh and his coaching staff. There was no debate until Monday night. But Kaepernick's exceptional play forced the issue.And, right now, there can be no quarterback controversy until there are two healthy quarterbacks. Alex Smith must first be medically cleared to play before there's any true debate within the 49ers' coaching ranks.Smith was cleared to practice last week. And he went through multiple normal days of practices until, apparently, some concussion symptoms presented themselves over the weekend.Kaepernick did not get the full week of practice, as would be expected for any starting quarterback. But he made it a moot point. Kaepernick was outstanding in the 49ers' 32-7 victory over the Chicago Bears.Here are the three options Harbaugh must consider:This week, Kaepernick starts: This is the equivalent of deferring the real decision until a later date.In order to give the 49ers' starting quarterback all the reps during a week of practice to face a surging Saints team, Harbaugh could declare that Kaepernick will start Sunday against the Saints. This decision would be made because of the uncertainty of Smith's condition."It looks like he will be (cleared) before the week is out," Harbaugh said Wednesday morning on KNBR's Murph and Mac Show. "But not as of now. I'm sure he will be."Harbaugh could take the stance that he does not want to get stuck in a situation similar to last week. It would prevent the possibility of Smith taking the majority of the practice time and then not being well enough to play. If Smith experiences any symptoms after the flight to New Orleans, he would not receive final clearance to play against the Saints.If the 49ers declare Kaepernick as the starter for this game only, it would give the team another sample from which to base their ultimate decision of which quarterback starts Dec. 2 at St. Louis . . . and for the remainder of the season.Long term, Smith starts: With Harbaugh's statement that he usually goes with the "hot hand," it's easy to forget just how hot Smith was before he exited the 49ers lineup Nov. 11 with a concussion.In his past two games, Smith completed 25 of 27 passes for 304 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 153.2. He was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his Oct. 29 performance against the Arizona Cardinals.The 49ers are 20-6 since the beginning of 2011 in games in which Smith started (not including the tie against the St. Louis Rams).Smith won the job convincingly in the offseason. And he is having far-and-away the best season statistically of his career. Smith's passer rating of 104.1 ranks third in the league behind Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning. He leads the NFL with a 70.0 completion percentage.Long term, Kaepernick starts: He made throws Monday night that Smith would not even attempt. Not only did Kaepernick throw those passes, he delivered them on the money -- repeatedly. The offense did not stall early. It looked explosive and impressive.Kaepernick pushed the ball down the field. He got tight end Vernon Davis involved from the beginning of the game. And he made a fourth-quarter throw to Davis between two defenders that Davis said looked like something he would see from Tom Brady.Kaepernick also seemed to have a very good handle on all of his responsibilities at the line of scrimmage. Harbaugh said after the game he could think of only one pre-snap misread. Kaepernick seemed to regularly get the 49ers into plays -- run and pass -- that were successful against what he saw from the Bears' defense.The 49ers' practices have been closed to the media since midway through the exhibition season. Up to that point, Kaepernick did not demonstrate the kind of accuracy one would expect from a starter.But, clearly, Kaepernick has gained a better understanding of the offensive system. It looked as if the game was coming easy to him Monday night. If he's more comfortable, it is going to be reflected in the accuracy of his throws.If Kaepernick has been practicing like he played Monday night, then this could be the long-term call for the 49ers' coaching staff.

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals


Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. — Blaine Gabbert will get his first start for the Arizona Cardinals when they play the Texans in Houston on Sunday.

Coach Bruce Arians announced the decision after Friday's practice.

Drew Stanton, the starter the last two games, bruised his knee early in the Thursday night loss to Seattle last week. He stayed in the game but has been limited in practice all week.

Arians said it will be a game-time decision as to whether Stanton or recently signed Matt Barkley would be Gabbert's backup.

Gabbert will be making his 41st NFL start. He has a 9-31 record. He signed with Arizona last offseason and was the third quarterback until Carson Palmer broke his arm against the Los Angeles Rams in London and was lost for the season.

49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?


49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?

Believe it or not, the 49ers’ offense is improved from last season.

The 49ers ranked 31st in the NFL in 2016, averaging 308.1 yards per game. Although the offense is producing just a little better (325.9 yards per game), their ranking this season has shot up to 21st in the league.

The 49ers have had a different head coach and different person running the offense in each of the past four seasons, so their continuity has been severely lacking.

Next season, the 49ers should finally have carryover from one season to the next.

The direction of the offense is one of the topics addressed on this edition of 49ers Mailbag (questions were submitted via Facebook):

Now that we have Jimmy G do you see 49ers getting an offensive coordinator or will it still be Kyle calling the plays? (Julio Orozco)
I'm not sure why the arrival of Jimmy Garoppolo would have any impact on the 49ers’ offensive structure, but in any event, the answer is a resounding, “No.”

Kyle Shanahan has been hailed as one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL. The reason he was hired as 49ers head coach was, in large part, because of the success he achieved while designing offenses and calling plays.

Why would he give that up? It makes no sense.

Rob Demovsky of ESPN this week identified the 32 primary play-callers. There are 18 NFL head coaches with offensive backgrounds. Twelve of those coaches call their own plays.

Shanahan has a staff of assistant coaches on whom he leans. Passing game specialist Mike LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello are closely involved in working with Shanahan on the passing game, while running game specialist Mike McDaniel, offensive line coach John Benton and running backs coach Bobby Turner spearhead the involvement in the ground game.

But, make no mistake, it is Shanahan who calls the shots. And that's the way it should be. If Shanahan stepped aside as his own offensive coordinator, he would be diminishing his biggest strength as a coach.

What do you see happing with the Hyde situation? We drafted Joe Williams and Breida seems to be a bright spot. There’s a lot of talk about Barkley from Penn State with that high 1st rounder. (Manny Hinojos)
There does not seem to be any movement toward a long-term extension for Hyde. It is getting to the point in the season where it makes a lot more sense for Hyde to play out his contract and hit the open market.

There is no question in my mind the 49ers like Hyde a lot. He has scored some major points with the organization for his performance on the field and how he has responded off the field.

GM John Lynch loved it when Hyde came to the defense of quarterback C.J. Beathard, tussled with Arizona lineman Frostee Rucker and got ejected from the game.

That said, the 49ers are not going to break the bank for Hyde. A multi-year agreement has to come at the right price. My personal feeling is that running backs are luxury pieces when the remainder of a team’s roster -- especially the offensive line -- is set.

Shanahan and his father, Mike Shanahan, and Turner (the assistant coach who served on both of their staffs) have achieved a lot of success without investing heavily in running backs. That’s why I think the 49ers would be best-served by investing elsewhere and using another mid-round draft pick on a running back.

With Joshua Garnett coming back next season how aggressive will Lynch and Shanahan be in trying to get guards this offseason? (David Hartless)
Garnett is not a particularly good fit for this offensive scheme. The presence of Garnett can help increase the competition next offseason, but I do not believe he is being penciled in as a starter.

The 49ers will certainly be aggressive in an attempt to upgrade the guard positions. Currently, Laken Tomlinson and Brandon Fusco are the starters. Neither will be assured a starting job when the offseason begins.

The 49ers did not see enough from Garnett to determine he has a future with the organization, but he will be given the opportunity to come back healthy and prove himself.

Is Eric Reid in long-term plans? (Grant Rasmussen)
I do not believe so. I think the 49ers would like their starting safeties next season to be Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt – with Adrian Colbert as the front-runner for the No. 3 job.

The 49ers can also be expected to add a player or two in free agency, as well as the draft, to provide a competitive environment in the offseason. The 49ers seemed to telegraph their intention with Reid when they moved him to linebacker with Ward and Tartt remaining as the starting safeties.

That position change lasted about a week, as Ward’s injury prompted the team to move Reid back to safety. Reid is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. It's entirely possible there will not be a big market for him, but I do not believe the 49ers are going to be ultra-competitive in retaining him on the open market.