SANTA CLARA – Jim Harbaugh often makes surprising declarations at his press conferences. On Thursday, he declared Alex Smith an expert at the 49ers’ offense. Here’s a transcript of Harbaugh’s interview, courtesy of the 49ers.
Does this mark any sort of break in camp? Do you guys go more to regular season mode next week or are you still in camp mode?
“We’ll be in camp, yes.”
When do you start breaking from that schedule?
“There will be some changes, some variation to the schedule. The breaking of the camp, or the breaking of the camp mode, we don’t subscribe to that. We just keep right on going. There’s really nowhere to break to. We’re here.”
Well, when do you send the guys home? When can they start sleeping in their own beds?
Will the starters go any longer in this game than the previous game?
What about wide out? Do you have your starters for wide out?
“Who we’ll trot out there the first play of the game compared to – I think you pretty much know our group, our starting group. It’s not so much that it’s that important who the first two guys are out. Could be another guy going in, by personnel groups.”
What kind of role is WR Ted Ginn Jr. going to have aside from receiving? Is he going to be returning some punts too?
“We’ll see if we decide to put him back there this week or not.”
After the first couple days of the red zone stuff, you talked about how the defense really had the upper hand. Do you think the offense made some strides this week?
“It’s been very competitive all camp. There have been some days up, down, and different. They’ve been very competitive all the way through. Don’t really get into, who’s winning, who’s losing the practice. Hopefully, we’re all winning. We are winning.”
Let me ask you this, is the offense more sharp? Has it made strides in being crisp and sharp, especially in this last week?
“I think there has been improvement. We’re still not where we want to be yet, but we’re making progress.”
What signs does WR Randy Moss give you every day out on that field that he’s thrilled to be back in the uniform and playing at a high level? Doing it for a team like this.
“Just the way he competes. He’s always talking about football. Never come up on him when he’s in one of those loud, gregarious moods, where he’s not talking about football. Trying to catch him in one of those moments, but have not been successful yet. Which is a great sign. He really enjoys it, he really loves football.”
How’s the acclamation process been for QB Alex Smith with not just Randy but WR Mario Manningham and WR A.J. Jenkins? He’s got several receivers that are new to work with.
“They’re doing fine. I think they’re really getting to know each other. Reading body language. Understanding what each other does well.”
As a former quarterback, how significant a process is that? To learn wide receivers body language?
“It’s very significant.”
Is there any part of that which was more difficult than others?
“I don’t really remember to tell you the truth. That was so long ago when I played. It’s a significant part. I can’t give you an exact science on it.”
When you have so many receivers coming in and out of the game, is it more difficult for Alex to develop…?
“I don’t think it’s any more than most teams. You have your four coming in, your five coming in, sometimes your six. You’ve got tight ends, you’ve got receivers that are running backs coming out of the backfield. I think it’s something you just practice. You train. I don’t think it’s too different from any other team.”
You guys threw the ball a lot in the spring. Has that helped Alex Smith develop a rapport with each and every one of these guys because so many footballs have been thrown throughout this whole offseason?
“I think it’s helped. Yes. How much? We’ll continue to see. We’d like to see good execution this week in all the phases.”
With all these different moving parts for you and offensive coordinator Greg Roman with play calling, you’ve got all these different options, do you think you can be more creative?
“Hopefully we can be. I think everybody strives to be creative as a coach, putting your players in positions to be successful. And our players are real stimulated by that, by new things, new ways of doing things. They’re very smart that way, our players are. I think Greg Roman is the best that we’ve ever seen. He’s got a great, creative mind. We all kind of marvel at him.”
What does RB Rock Cartwright bring to this team?
“Above and beyond anything else he’s a very talented professional. [He] does everything right. Great role model for all of us. Real tough, tough as nails. I have great respect for Rock.”
Do you see him being a special teams ace this year? I feel like he’s always played a big role on special teams.
“Yeah, I feel like that’s a real talent of his. But all around his game is real solid, running the ball, catching it out of the backfield, blocking, special teams. He does it all well.”
Did you find yourself this training camp doing less hands-on coaching with QB Alex Smith than last year maybe when you were working more on the fundamentals, and now it’s more about working on the schemes
“No, I wouldn’t say that. I think my role with him has been about what it was last year.”
Does he look a lot more comfortable in this offense?
“Yes. He’s an expert at it. He’s an expert in this offense, at this offense.”
With WR Randy Moss, how much better can he be for your defense preparing with a long, athletic receiver and how much can your defense gain from facing him?
“They’ve talked about it this offseason, a lot of the fellas in the secondary. I know our offensive players feel the same way about a lot of the players that we have on defense. And iron sharpening iron is a good thing, become straight, become sharp.”
When did you see that transformation of Alex Smith into an expert of this offense?
“Not on any particular day or date or throw or play, but it’s just been a process.”
Was he an expert last season?
“He is now. I notice it now. I think it’s all been a process and by the time we get here next year, he’ll be probably well past me because he’s very, very smart and already has great ideas. Already very creative, already very knowledgeable on how to use everything in the system, at our offense’s disposal for our offense’s good. Way ahead of the curve. I think after a year you really know it, but it takes about two years in the system to become a real expert at it from the quarterback position. But he’s cut that in half.”
What about WR Mario Manningham? How has he adjusted? What does he bring? What’s unique about him?
“A lot of things. Just overall, a very good receiver in all phases, catching the ball, getting off the line of scrimmage, savvyness, better than most that we’ve been around. Good player, proven player, dynamic player.”
Will your new OLB Ikaika Alama-Francis play on Saturday against the Houston Texans? Is he permitted to play on Saturday?
“He will be permitted to play. Yes. Yeah. He was here for a physical on Wednesday, acclimating today, acclimating tomorrow and would be able to play on Saturday. And will he play? We’ll see. We’ll see if we’re in the position to play him. It depends on him. It depends on us. It depends on circumstances.”
I know it’s only been one day, but can you tell anything from your new TE Joe Sawyer? He seems like a big, physical kind of tight end.
“Yeah, so far, [he] just moves around, looks the part out there. Catches the ball. Runs like a guy that belongs at this level. He’s getting a late start at it, but it’s an opportunity. He’s got a fighting chance so we’ll what transpires. And how fast he’s going to be able to pick things up. We’ll see.”
Will RB Frank Gore, DT Justin Smith, Manningham play, the guys you rested in the opener?
“Yeah. Those guys will be playing.”
Alex completed several passes to Vernon today. Did something noticeably click for them during the postseason? Are they a better combo now?
“Clicked in the postseason? I think things were clicking in the season too. Again, I think it’s been a process. They know each other well. I’ll state the obvious, but it’s going well. Both of them are really fine players. Both of them had the opportunity to be in the same system two years in a row. They have used what they built last year as a foundation. I think they’ve built upon that. That’s noticeable.”