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Harbaugh remains evasive about 49ers starter, Smith not cleared

The SportsXchange

Questionable.

That's the latest, if not final, word on the San Francisco 49ers quarterback controversy over whether Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick will start In New Orleans on Sunday.

Smith, sidelined with a concussion in the November 11 game against St. Louis, was still listed as questionable on the official injury report Friday, just before head coach Jim Harbaugh made his own questionable announcement on the issue. Harbaugh said he chooses not to name a starter in order to maintain a "competitive advantage."

Harbaugh admitted that Smith still had not yet passed the impact test prerequisite to play in a game, but said that the eighth-year veteran has felt no concussion symptoms and has looked sharp in practice.

The 49ers web site offered this interpretation: "What the 49ers coach is saying is that his veteran quarterback is close to being cleared to return to action. Smith passed his final contact test on Friday and will be officially cleared for contact by the team's Medical Director, Dr. Dan Garza, if he shows no symptoms on Saturday".

However, Kaepernick, the second-year quarterback who helped blast the Chicago Bears, 32-7, Monday night, took the majority of snaps in practice and there have been multiple reports, including at least one by a 49ers player, that Kaepernick will be the starter. Harbaugh declared such reports "not factual."

"We feel like there's no competitive advantage for us to release that information for our organization and our team," the 49ers coach explained. "Like any position, we don't get into what the roles going to be and how we're going to use it."

When pushed further by reporters, he said only "Again, it's not something we think is an advantage for us to talk about."

Friday morning, 49ers safety Donte Whitner revealed on "The Dan Patrick Show" that Colin Kaepernick would start against the Saints.

That followed a series of conflicting reports since Wednesday that covered a full spectrum of possibilities short of Harbaugh starting himself.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Thursday afternoon that no decision had been made, which was contrary to a Sports Illustrated report by Jim Trotter, who covered Harbaugh when he was in San Diego. Trotter tweeted that Harbaugh informed Smith that Kaepernick would receive the nod. Trotter said specifically that his source indicated Kaepernick would start regardless of the health consideration.

Kaepernick created the shake-up with a shocking debut as a starter -- fill-in or otherwise -- by completing 19 of 23 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns in that 32-7 win over the Bears.

Before Smith sustained the concussion, he was having a solid season, connecting on 70 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Of course, the 49ers have issues to consider beyond the quarterback situation.

"It's going to be a hostile environment," Harbaugh said of the challenge of playing in the Superdome. "We prepared with the noise all week long, darn near every snap had noise."

During practice this week, the team cranked up loud music, something the 49ers and other teams have done since the SuperDome was built.

While that noise will be a concern for whomever quarterbacks the 49ers, a bigger issue could be how to stop a Saints offense led by quarterback Drew Brees, labeled by 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as "proficient and explosive."

However, the 49ers' defense was probably even more impressive than Kaepernick against the Bears, led by another second-year player, outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who had 5 1/2 sacks against Chicago. That gives him a league-leading 15 this season, one more than he had during his rookie season.

"He has gotten stronger from year one to year two," Fangio said. "He has always had natural brute strength. The combination of that and his length and his slither ability, he is a tough guy to block."

So it would seem Aldon is at least one Smith who is expected to start.
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