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Harbaugh: Alex Smith is our long-term quarterback

San Francisco 49ers coach Harbaugh throws a pass as his teams warms-up before their NFL game against Pittsburgh Steelers in San Francisco

San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh throws a pass as his teams warms-up before the start of their Monday Night NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in San Francisco, California December 19, 2011. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)


Early in Monday night’s game against the Steelers, Alex Smith missed a number of potential scoring opportunities. He wasn’t playing poorly, but the 49ers could have opened up the lead earlier.

It didn’t wind up mattering and Smith closed out the game strong, but I couldn’t have been the only viewer thinking: What could Jim Harbaugh do with another starting quarterback?

Jim Harbaugh is apparently not having these sort of thoughts. Asked Tuesday about Smith, the 49ers coach said he believes Smith is the 49ers quarterback of the future.

Smith is set to be a free agent after the year. There seems to be little doubt that the 49ers will retain him with an attractive offer. San Francisco also has Colin Kaepernick on the bench as a developmental prospect.

I don’t want to dismiss what Smith has done this year. He’s improved greatly under Harbaugh, but how much of that is coaching and how much of that is Smith?

It’s at least worth considering what Harbaugh could do with a quarterback that is more talented.