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Harbaugh makes the right call

Chicago Bears v San Francisco 49ers

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - NOVEMBER 19: Head Coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers signals safety as the officials review a Chicago Bears fumble recovery in the endzone during the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park on November 19, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

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Yes, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh reportedly has informed Alex Smith that Colin Kaepernick will be the starting quarterback on Sunday against the Saints.

It was the right decision, and it was the right time to make it.

Smith has played well under Harbaugh’s tutelage, but months before Harbaugh even had a chance to meet with his new team (due to the lockout) he had selected Kaepernick at the top of round two of the draft, one spot behind Andy Dalton. The fact that Smith achieved a level of performance he hadn’t been able to reach in six prior seasons delayed the switch to the talented youngster.

But after the 49ers “evaluated” Peyton Manning in the offseason, the writing was on the wall. Eventually, the job would be Kaepernick’s.

Now it is, thanks to a concussion that kept Smith from getting cleared to play on Monday night. And that gave Kaepernick a chance to show what he can do.

The challenge for Harbaugh becomes getting the most out of Kaepernick, and getting him not to worry about making mistakes. It will be easy for Kaepernick to look over his shoulder. It won’t be easy for Harbaugh to persuade Kaepernick not to.

After all, that’s the only flaw in the approach. By making the move from Smith to Kaepernick, Harbaugh necessarily is retreating from all the good things he previously said about Smith. Harbaugh will now start saying plenty of good things about Kaepernick. And Harbaugh will need Kaepernick to believe them.

Harbaugh also will need the rest of the locker room to accept the decision unequivocally, and not to wonder whether the good things he has said about them are genuine, or just part of a coach’s effort to get players to play at a high level without worrying about being replaced.

Perhaps more importantly, Harbaugh also may need to once again repair his relationship with Smith, if Harbaugh decides to switch back to the veteran or, as Harbaugh suggested on Wednesday, to use them interchangeably from game to game, quarter to quarter, drive to drive, or even play to play.

Though an outsider would say it’s a good problem to have, Harbaugh likely doesn’t feel that way, deep down. But he’ll manage the situation as best he can -- and he’ll likely find a way to make it work.