Harbaugh's verdict: Kaepernick is 49ers' starter

Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

Cancel the quarterback controversy. Colin Kaepernick will be the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback against the St. Louis Rams this Sunday and should remain the starter into the foreseeable future until or unless some catastrophic event takes place.
And only coach Jim Harbaugh can determine what, exactly, would constitute such an event.
At his press conference Wednesday in Santa Clara, Calif., Harbaugh wasn't vague, cryptic, confusing or otherwise deceptive -- for the most part. Any such deception would be in the eye of the beholder, one with a preconceived agenda that required inappropriately retrofitting Harbaugh's unusually clear message.
"We plan to start Colin Kaepernick," Harbaugh said in his opening volley. "We're preparing him to make that start this week against the Rams.
"The rationale is we have two quarterbacks that we feel great about as a starting quarterback. Both have earned it, both deserve it -- Alex over a long period of time, Colin by virtue of the last three games."
Kaepernick, a second-year pro, got his chance Nov. 11 when Smith, an eighth-year veteran, was concussed against the Rams. With Kaepernick finishing the game, the 49ers came from behind and managed a tie in overtime.
With Smith's status still shaky, Kaepernick then started and starred in a 32-7 Monday night victory over what had been considered a good Chicago Bears defense. Then, after Smith was cleared to play in last Sunday's game, Kaepernick started in the inhospitable Superdome, and with the help of a 49ers defense that returned two interceptions for touchdowns, beat the New Orleans Saints, 31-21.
Yes, that means, mathematically, it took Kaepernick only two-plus games on display to overtake what Smith accomplished for seven-plus years. It should be pointed out that only one-plus of those years were under Harbaugh.
So now the Rams are up again, and so is Kaepernick. Those who are surprised by this must not be paying attention. Things have been going in this direction longer than some seem to recognize.
Months after he was hired, Harbaugh made a strong statement by giving up three picks to move up in the 2011 draft and take Kaepernick, whose prolific performances at Nevada-Reno had been devalued by some teams because, well, they were at Reno. Harbaugh obviously had his own perspective, possibly from films he saw while still at Stanford.
And then this spring, Harbaugh courted free agent quarterback legend Peyton Manning. Although Harbaugh later tried to erase that historic reality, he did send a message that Smith, at least, understood. Smith flew to Miami and talked about taking a job there as the Dolphins' starting quarterback.
But Manning apparently wasn't interested in the 49ers, possibly because he didn't want to set a course to face his brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, in anything short of a Super Bowl.
When Peyton Manning excused himself from the 49ers' picture, Harbaugh said something to the effect that it never really happened, and long story short, Smith came back to San Francisco. However, Smith's welcome-home party was a bit muted thanks to a three-year contract for $24 million, placing him approximately 21st among NFL quarterbacks.
So it is really against that background that the last three weeks should be measured, making Harbaugh's so-called decision Wednesday less shocking than some seem to understand.
Oh, of course Harbaugh wouldn't be Harbaugh if he didn't add a couple of knuckleballs with his otherwise refreshing display of straight pitches.
"Colin, we believe, has the hot hand, we'll go with Colin," he said. "And we'll go with Alex. They're both our guys."
Asked for his reaction, Kaepernick said, "I don't know if it's a hot hand or whatever you want to call it, but I'm just happy I get to go back out there."
Harbaugh's juxtaposition with the media was clarified once again when he was asked to discuss player feedback regarding his decision.
"You really don't have the right to know what those conversations are," he asserted. "The players believe in both guys."
Is there the possibility of a two-quarterback situation?
"We're not going to speculate on it," he said. "We're worried about everything and we fear nothing -- no moment, no circumstance."
So Kaepernick is the starting quarterback going forward?
"No, I wouldn't assume anything," Harbaugh replied. "I know you probably will, but I assume nothing."
Fair enough. This is as straightforward as it gets with Harbaugh.
If there is fallout that is important from this quarterback situation, it is that some players may view Smith's demise was a result of being honest about his concussion, which demanded specific protocol be followed before he could play again.
The procedure is part of the NFL's initiative on player safety and sounds very responsible, although it creates a double-edged situation for players. If they are honest, they must follow protocol before playing, regardless if that means their job is then in jeopardy.
"That would be something to worry about," Harbaugh agreed. "I would never want that message sent to our players."
Harbaugh feels he has done everything correctly, and finally, if this is every really true, said there is "nothing more to add."
"Make your own judgment," he allowed, not saying whether he cared what it was. "I've explained exactly what the decision's been made on and how I feel about both of our quarterbacks. I told you how our team feels about both quarterbacks. I feel like there's nothing more to add.
"All these decisions are difficult. You think through them the best you possibly can."

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