49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh chatted with the media on Wednesday and he's gotten the world in a huff over his comments regarding the 49ers evaluation (or pursuit if you so choose) of free agent quarterback Peyton Manning. I've posted the transcript after the jump, and you can also view Alex Smith's subsequent comments at CSN Bay Area. Cam Inman posted some of the many tweets that popped up mocking the whole situation.
The general belief in the national media is that this is another attempt to boost Alex Smith's confidence. I suppose that is possible, but the timing of it does not seem to fit that explanation. The entire timing of this whole situation is bizarre, to say the least. I suppose it could be to distract from the Cam Newton stuff, but even that seemed to have quieted down at this point.
I think one solid explanation for Harbaugh's comments was by Gitaroo_Dude in our post last night:
At first glance this seems pretty absurd and patronizing
But after reading the entirety of it I actually think Harbaugh has a point, even if it requires engaging in semantics.
They gave Alex a contract before they even looked into Peyton. He was their first choice in that regard. Only after Alex turned it down initially did they do their due diligence and look into Peyton.
In that sense they didn't "pursue" Peyton. They didn't go after him in the same way the other suitors did. They looked into him but he was never their only option.
While I don't get the timing of Coach Harbaugh's comments, I do think this was essentially a debate over semantics. Last year, Coach Harbaugh talked up Alex Smith and I do think that was about rebuilding his confidence as a quarterback. While Alex did not have a great year, he did show some positive steps to build on this year.
While Alex might be a leader in the huddle, there is a certain semblance of being a loyal soldier as well, as opposed to being very much the face of the franchise. There's nothing wrong with being that kind of person. He has shown he can make big plays and will hopefully build on that and create some measure of consistency in 2012. I don't think some sort of confidence-building mechanism was necessary at this particular point in time. That naturally leaves me a bit befuddled by the timing of the comments.
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - May 30, 2012
San Francisco 49ers
When you get guys who are switching from one side to the other, what's the benefit there? Is it just to gain them some knowledge, say if it's a DB playing wide receiver, is he gaining knowledge on how to be a better DB, or is it something you want to see that, "Hey, maybe we can sneak him in somewhere?" Or is it both?
"Well, you can gain knowledge by playing the opposite side of the ball. But the greater share of why we're doing that and most of the share is to utilize a guy's talent on the other side of the ball. Possibly find a player that's a three-way player to play defense, offense and special teams. That's the 98 percent of it."
How are some of those guys doing? We saw DT Will Tukuafu playing a lot of fullback yesterday.
"Very well, very well. Will is doing an outstanding job. Right now, we're in the athletic portion of these practices and workouts. He's done very well with that. I think the fun will start with him when we put the pads on. [CB] Cory Nelms, [DB] Ben Hannula, [DT] Demarcus Dobbs, are other guys that are doing that. And so far so good, doing very well."
We spoke with RB Brandon Jacobs recently and he said that the 49ers had identified burst as something that he might need to improve upon and he's doing squats for the first time in six years he said. Is that something that you identified, or the training staff identified? Or how did that come about?
"Don't have that answer. Don't know who identified that."
Do you think that's accurate? That he's a big guy and he needs to hit the hole like a big guy should?
"Well, he's looked good. He's looked extremely good in terms of burst. Every guy out here's working on something and everything. Usually the athletes will pick out one thing, two things to work on in a practice and really focus and concentrate on those one or two things."
QB Colin Kaepernick said he's focusing on releasing the ball quicker. How do you go about coaching that with guys to get their-without overhauling their motion?
"Very little to the motion actually. More with the feet, with the eye discipline. With making decisions ahead of the play, not waiting for them to happen, but anticipating things. And all young quarterbacks go through that, and all young quarterbacks have a lot to work on. But definitely to concentrate on that specific thing is really good for Kaep[ernick] right now."
When you've got this many guys in camp at this time of year, how do you divvy up your time and try to see everything?
"Well, one way we're doing that is splitting the squad almost like the baseball teams do in Spring Training, and getting double the amount of reps. And then we can watch that on film, but they also get to do it on the grass as well. So, you've seen that the few practices that you've been out here, which maximizes everybody's reps because people get better at football by playing football. So, that's one way."
One of your undrafted guys, LB Kourtnei Brown, bears a visual appearance to LB Aldon Smith. Does he have any similar traits besides his body frame and position?
"Well, position, there's some similarities in size. And I'm not going to make a comparison with Aldon Smith at this point and Kourtnei. Somebody would get diminished there and I think I know who it would be. So, he's doing fine. Kourtnei's doing just fine and will keep progressing."
What do you like about him?
"I like the size, the stature on him, the athletic ability. I like his attitude out here and I like the way he works. So, there's a lot to like there and we'll just keep trying to build every day."
Let me ask you about another outside linebacker, Eric Bakhtiari. Did you remember him from San Diego?
Did he play that position for the Toreros, or was he a lineman at that point?
"He was a defensive end. He was a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme and he had a tremendous college career. He was our best player on defense when we were down there and he's had a great career. He's obviously one of those guys who's trying to get over the hump. He's been in camps. He's been on practice squad. His goal right now is to make the football team. And he's doing fine."
You guys had an injury at that position. Does that open a door for somebody like Eric that he could make the roster?
"Well, certainly that's a focus and we really think Eric's got the ability to do it and he's getting plenty of opportunities out here. And we'll keep evaluating that. That could be him, could be somebody. Somebody's going to have to fill that role. So, we'll keep looking at it and evaluating every day."
CB Tarell Brown had said he wants to lead the league in interceptions and go to the Pro Bowl. [Inaudible]
"He played tremendous for us last year. The thing I like about him the most is he's a winning cornerback. He's a 14-4 type cornerback. And that's the most important thing to us as a football team. He's going to keep chasing. What I like, what you're saying that he's saying is he's chasing perfection, and that's a great thing to chase."
Let me ask you about safety. S Dashon Goldson obviously not here, Donte Whitner wasn't here yesterday, you're getting the chance to see some of these younger guys play. Is that valuable because you don't have a lot of experience behind your two starters?
"It's real valuable. Those guys that are competing for those spots really think it's valuable, and so do we. [S] C.J. Spillman has done a very nice job. [S] Trenton Robinson is getting a lot of reps. [S] Donte Whitner's been out here quite a bit. So, everybody in that mix. [S] Mark LeGree, they all benefit and they're all working very hard to find a role. Whether it be a starter, or as a backup, or as a contributor and a guy making the team."
Can the number three safety see a lot of action just given the way opponents pass the ball these days?
"Well, definitely can, yeah exactly. Especially when you go to your dime package and if our starting nickel comes out of the safety group, or whether it comes out of the corner group, remains to be determined. But yeah, they're all competing for those types of roles."
Does your starting nickel change when it's a short yardage, or goal line situation? I remember S CJ Spillman coming in in that Baltimore game when the Ravens were on the goal line and had a great hit down there.
"The packages do change from nickel out on the field to goal line. And could be going to a dime package in that situation. But yeah, they change. A little more thump. C.J. gives us a lot of that."
Is S Michael Thomas getting looked at both at safety and corner?
"Mainly as a safety, and he's done a real fine job. So, he's got a little bit of an advantage knowing [Defensive Coordinator] Vic Fangio's system, but I know Michael really well. We know Michael really well and it's no surprise how hard he's competing and how well he's doing."
Was he sort of a team leader down there? Was he sort of a personality guy?
"He was very much a team leader. He was a captain there his last year and was a leader from the day he stepped on the campus. He just has those attributes, those traits. Great leadership ability."
Do you remember the first time you saw DT Isaac Sopoaga throw the ball? And what were your impressions?
"He throws a very long ball. And a very tight spiral too. Yes, throws as well as any big man I've ever watched. He's amazing that way."
Is that something that you'd ever utilize?
"You never know. You never know, could be."
Do you remember was it in warm up? Do you have it in your mind the first time you saw that?
"The exact time, no. One of those early weeks in the season, or it could have been training camp. He likes throwing the ball. Oh, one other thing. There's the perception out there, and it's an erroneous perception, that we were flirting with [Denver Broncos QB] Peyton Manning. I keep hearing that over and over and over again. It's silly and it's untrue. It's phony. Even the perception that we were pursuing him. We were evaluating him. I've said it all along, [QB] Alex Smith has been our quarterback. There's no scenario, other than Alex choosing to sign with another team, that we would have considered him not as our quarterback. And don't like to compare or talk about somebody else that's on another team, but in this case it's time to set the record straight. Alex Smith is our quarterback, was our quarterback, and had every intention of always bringing him back. There would be no circumstance that we would have let Alex Smith go. Now, were we out there seeing, evaluating if we could have them both? Heck yeah. And you evaluate that, you eliminate the possibility. And further evidence, we would not have given any player that was out there in free agency a sixth of our salary cap, and let six, or seven of our own guys go here. So, hopefully that sets the record straight and you don't have to keep reporting the silliness and phoniness."
Did he contact you guys then and express interest in joining the 49ers? Is that how it went?
"Yeah, like I said, there was interest and we evaluated it, pursued it, further evaluated it and there was conversations. I'm not going to go into all those personal conversations, but there was nothing said to Alex that was not said to Peyton Manning or in house here, on the record, off the record. Both those young men knew exactly what our intentions were. And I was very clear about that, that Alex Smith would be back here as our quarterback in 2012, if we could make that signing. We said the same thing to Alex as we said to Peyton."
Was Alex going to Miami just a part of the game, with the free agency and seeing what was out there for him?
"Well, he was a free agent. He went on a visit, yes."
When you evaluated Peyton, when you went out to North Carolina, what did you think of him?
"Well, we thought that was a critical thing to do. He's coming off of a season where he was injured and he didn't play. He's going to be a fine player in the National Football League. And he made the best decision for himself going to the Denver Broncos, and we wish him nothing but success. He'll be good. He'll be fine."
If he did sign, you would have had to severely adjusted your roster to fit him under with his salary obligation?
"We're not going into all the-it's not your right, or anybody else's right to know exactly what those implications would have been. But, you could understand the best fit for us was Alex Smith. And we weren't going to give a sixth of our salary cap to anybody out there. We like six or seven of the guys we've got on this current team that much."
If Peyton had said he wanted to come though, would Alex still have been here as well?
"That would have been the hope, yeah. Like I said, there was no scenario where we weren't going to have Alex Smith on this team if we could help it. Now, you don't control all those factors, so I think that's very clear, very concise. Hopefully everybody can understand that."
One more thing on the clarification because from what we inferred, was when he decided on Denver he contacted you personally to tell you he was going to go to Denver instead of coming here, or that he was not interested? That's one of the perceptions. Is that accurate, or no?
"That's accurate. That's accurate. Like I said, Peyton chose the Denver Broncos and we wish him well."