Dating all the way back to the end of the 2010 NFL season, the threat of a lockout hung over the NFL for all to see. Although it took three months to kick in, players and coaches were aware of the possibility. Prior to the lockout, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh had reportedly been in contact with Alex Smith and worked with him a bit on the practice field. It reached a point where the NFL actually issued a warning to Harbaugh about his interactions with the pending free agent.
Since Harbaugh was first hired, we've heard a steady stream of compliments about Alex Smith as a person and his skills as a football player. As a person there is no doubt that Alex Smith is a generally good person. The issue for many 49ers fans is his skill as a football player.
On Monday, GM Trent Baalke was on KNBR and had some comments about Smith. I wasn't able to listen and can't find the show at knbr.com, but Eric Branch tweeted some of Baalke's comments:
"I have supreme confidence in Alex. I love the character of the man."
"Whether he's able to turn it around under coach or not, that remains to be seen. That's in his hands."
Those aren't quite the level of praise we've seen coming from Jim Harbaugh and I find myself pondering the reasons for Jim Harbaugh's effusive praise of the 49ers pending free agent QB. Until recently, I was convinced that the reason Coach Harbaugh was being so positive was because of the situation he was in courtesy of the NFL's lockout. A protracted lockout would likely puts both Harbaugh and Smith in a position where they would be working together in 2011.
As was discussed several months ago, if the lockout drags into late August or beyond, it is possible the NFL would have to alter free agency rules for one year to prevent absolute chaos. This would lead to players going back to their previous team on the terms of the last year of their previous contract. My thought process has been that Coach Harbaugh does not want to be in a position where he would be working with a QB who isn't sure he has his coach's complete support.
However, as this moves on, I find myself wondering whether it is possible Harbaugh might actually view Smith as a quarterback he can mold into a solid NFL starter. Harbaugh has done good things at the college level, but he's never developed a quarterback at the NFL level. Given all that Smith has been through, if Harbaugh could turn him into an above average starting quarterback, I think there is some analogy in there to turning water into wine.
None of us knows what Harbaugh's mindset is really like on the Smith issue. However, given that there isn't a whole lot more going on right now, I guess my mind wanders to little things like this.