June 30, 2011
KILLION ARCHIVE49ERS NEWS 49ERSVIDEO
CSNBayArea.comIts a fascinating exercise in human behavior thats been going on at San Jose State. No matter what some cynical observers think (and that includes you Senior Insider Ratto).The 49ers players, working without paychecks or perks, are trying to get ready for the season. Thats not something we see often in modern sports.Alex Smith is the de facto coach, giving orders and taking charge in one last gasp bid to become the 49ers leader. This is a new, changed Smith. Even Vernon Davis says its a new look for his teammate.VIDEO: Vernon Davis on Chronicle Live
Hes really being a leader out there, Davis told Chronicle Live this week. Thats what Alex shouldve been doing but it takes time for some guys to get to where you need to be.But the most interesting thing is that Smith is also helping Colin Kaepernick the young quarterback who fans are already swooning over get ready to take his job away. Hes doing everything he can to help Kaepernick prepare for the NFL and become the 49ers' starting quarterback.Its not awkward at all, Kaepernick said when I talked to him a few days after the first Camp Alex. Alex is a great guy. Hes said, If I can help you with anything just let me know. Hes been very welcoming and its a good relationship. The situation were in doesnt have to define the relationship we have with each other.Kaepernick, and all the rookies, are in a strange spot. Theyre unable to talk to their new bosses and their first taste of the NFL is coming in do-it-yourself practices at a college facility.MAIOCCO: Smith takes charge at Camp Alex
Its a very odd situation, he said. But at the same time being a rookie dont know what normal situation is. Right now, its not too different from what Im used to coming from college.Kaepernick, finally cleared to play after his mysterious procedure on his left leg (something he declines to talk about), was out there this week. He opted to work with his new teammates rather than go to this weeks rookie symposium in Florida.Thats not surprising if you know Kaepernicks background. Before his senior year in college, the Chicago Cubs offered Kaepernick -- who had been an outstanding high school pitcher -- 30,000 to spend a month throwing bullpen sessions in Arizona so they could check out his arm. Thats a lot of money for a college kid to turn down, but Kaepernick knew he couldnt be away from his teammates.As the quarterback you cant leave your team a month before you go into camp, he said.That same lesson applies now.Coach Jim Harbaugh is following along with the players activities as best he can through the media. Though hed obviously rather have the team participating in organized team activities at the 49ers facility, hes encouraged by what hes seeing. Not just the action but also the motivation behind it.These guys love football and theyre committed to getting in great shape and planning for the future, he said. I think its beneficial for all of them. The players have to organize things, find the field, get the balls, figure out whos doing what, whos responsible for what, what plays are they going to run.I wonder how often this generation of men have had to do that growing up, he added. They were probably over-supervised and over-committed as youngsters.Taking ownership of the team and their own future cant be a bad thing, especially for a group of players who were too often treated like children by Mike Singletary.All the 49ers are starting from scratch, which means that Kaepernick and Smith are dead even when it comes to knowledge of Harbaughs offense.Its a little bit of a good thing in terms of trying to compete for a starting spot, Kaepernick said. But overall its not the best situation because you want to make sure youre doing things the right way, the way the coaches want. But Alex has done a great job translating things to the best of his knowledge.The player with the most insight into Harbaughs system is just up the road at Stanford. Though there were reports that Kaepernick was relying on Andrew Luck for information, Kaepernick said those were blown way out of proportion. He and Luck became friends last summer at the Manning Passing Academy but Luck hasnt been a source of information.We just had a quick conversation, Kaepernick said.For now, Kaepernick is relying on the man he wants to replace.Clearly, the best thing Harbaugh did during his window of contact in early May was give Smith the playbook. Smith has been through six offensive coordinators in his six years with the 49ers, so he knows a little something about installing an offense and trying to translate it. And as a rookie Smith was the beneficiary of a willing mentor in Trent Dilfer so he knows the importance of helping a younger player.Smith may never be the player he was drafted to be. But hes becoming a heck of a coach.And this may end up being Smiths greatest contribution to the 49ers: grooming his replacement.