INDIANAPOLIS -- Although his team made it all the way to the Super Bowl, San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke was asked to discuss less pleasant issues with the media at the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday.
What will he do with demoted quarterback Alex Smith? Was he concerned with the lack of productivity from last year's draft class, especially that of wide receiver A. J. Jenkins, their first-round pick who saw minimal playing time?
Baalke has not made a decision on Smith, but reported that Jenkins is expected to begin working harder on self-improvement beginning this week.
Smith was sidelined by a concussion in November and remained a backup when second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick made the offense more dynamic with a stronger arm and exceptional running ability that was showcased in a run-option series.
Baalke had dinner with Smith and talked with him, but admits he still does not have a definite plan on what to do with the popular veteran quarterback. He stammered and sidestepped when asked if trading Smith was an option.
"There's, uh, I think that's part of it, " Baalke said. "We're going to look at all options available. Are we going to trade him for sure? That hasn't been decided."
Not even after what he called "a great meal and a great discussion" with Smith and the quarterback's wife, Liz.
"I can't say enough good things," Baalke said of Smith. "If you ask anyone in the organization, they'll say the same thing. He is a pro's pro. Have nothing but great respect for him, his family. And we're certainly going to do everything in our power to make the best decision for everyone involved."
ESPN.com reported it was "highly, highly, highly unlikely" the 49ers would release Smith, citing sources, and would only trade him. However, Smith's trade value is in question based on a conspicuous lack of interest in him as a free agent last year. While the 49ers were reportedly eyeing another free agent, Peyton Manning, Smith visited the Miami Dolphins, who had a dire need for a quarterback. But there was not even an offer made to Smith, according to the Dolphins.
As the 49ers prepare for a 2013 draft in which they have 14 picks, Baalke was asked to reflect on the lack of production from Jenkins', who was the 30th player selected last year. He was healthy all season, but was active for only three games, played in 37 offensive snaps and dropped the only pass thrown to him.
Baalke said Jenkins' main problem was an inability to pick up the 49ers offense.
"He's a young guy that came out of a college system that's taken a while to grasp to the pro system," Baalke said. "It's not a work ethic issue, it's not a skill set issue. It's learning the craft at the pro level. And that's a position historically that some have adapted to more quickly than others."
However, the lanky receiver was criticized for not working out hard enough.to help fit in as a pro. That criticism became louder when it was learned that Jenkins did not follow through after accepting an invitation to work out with Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.
Jenkins recently said he would join Kaepernick at CES Performance in Atlanta. Kaepernick has a reputation for his diligent work habits. However, Jenkins was a no-show last week when Kaepernick and two other receivers, Ricardo Lockette and Chad Hall, began workouts.
Baalke said Jenkins was expected to join the other players this week.
"We're very confident in his ability as we were when we drafted him," Baalke said. "And now it's time for him to go back to work, and this offseason is going to be a big offseason. These guys -- we've always said -- their biggest growth is between Year 1 and Year 2. So we're expected that to happen this year, and certainly in AJ's case."
---The 49ers reportedly do not plan to release quarterback Alex Smith if they cannot find a trade that meets the team's needs.
ESPN.com reported it was "highly, highly, highly unlikely" the 49ers would release Smith, citing sources.