As a first-year NFL head coach, Jim Harbaugh said he’s being cautious when it comes to discussing specific players and divulging information about his team’s plans.
To illustrate his strategy today in a conversation with the team’s beat writers in a corridor of Lucas Oil Stadium, Harbaugh, as if playing poker, put an imaginary hand of cards close to his mouth and laughed, “It will be like on the poker channel,” he said. “… Put the shades on. Pull the cap down. Kind of take that approach this year.”
Of course, Harbaugh has made a notable exception to this rule of reticence. He sure hasn’t been coy when it comes to publicly discussing matters related to unrestricted free agent quarterback Alex Smith.
And, today, Harbaugh divulged even more as he said that “talks are going on” between the Niners and Smith’s agent. The 49ers have until March 3 – the last day before the current collective bargaining agreement expires — to sign Smith, who would then have to wait until a new CBA is struck to test the free-agent market.
Prior to Harbaugh’s revelation, general manager Trent Baalke suggested he didn’t think Smith would sign before the March 3 deadline, “We obviously know he’s going to become a free agent as soon as the league year ends,” Baalke said.
For his part, Harbaugh continued his public full-court press, “I studied the tape and realized that he’s a good football player,” Harbaugh said. “… I hope he looks at it like the fresh start, turning the page, is with the 49ers. But we have to wait to see and let that play out.”
• Unlike Harbaugh, Baalke hasn’t publicly praised Smith during the offseason. But he made it clear that he trusts his head coach’s judgment when it comes to quarterbacks.
“I think Jim’s come out and said he feels very good about Alex Smith as a quarterback,” Baalke said. “And I respect Jim’s opinion on not only the quarterback position, but all personnel we have. So we’re going to take a look, like I’ve said, at every option to make this football team better and more competitive. Whether that’s free agency, the draft, trades, signing our own guys.”
• So, what about David Carr, the only 49ers quarterback under contract?
Harbaugh hasn’t shared his opinion on the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft. And, perhaps, that’s because Harbaugh had a minority opinion on the highly touted Carr coming out of Fresno State.
As an assistant with the Raiders during the 2002 combine one of Harbaugh duties was to write reports on quarterbacks. According to the Sacramento Bee, Harbaugh graded Carr as a sixth-round pick.
Today, Harbaugh was asked about his evaluation of Carr nine years ago (his reportedly unflattering appraisal wasn’t include in the question).
“Um, what my personal evaluation was of him?” Harbaugh said. “Yeah, I mean, it was good. Good player coming out of Fresno State. It was good.”
• Baalke said the Niners would like to add another running back to a backfield that includes Frank Gore and Anthony Dixon through free agency, the draft or a trade. However, he didn’t mention free-agent running back Brian Westbrook. At a fan forum teleconference last week, Harbaugh did the same thing – mentioned Gore and Dixon and skipped over Westbrook.
Is Westbrook in the team’s plans, Jim?
“As I’ve gone through this whole thing, whether I’ve mentioned somebody or not mentioned somebody, it’s really not a telling thing,” Harbaugh said. “Because I’ve really avoided talking about guys specifically because you leave somebody out and then someone reads something into it.”
Harbaugh, who said he was, by nature, “transparent as a baggie” eventually relented somewhat and discussed Westbrook.
• Like Seahawks coach Pete Carroll did at the Senior Bowl last month, Harbaugh downplayed the rivalry between the two when they coached against each other in the Pac-10.
“Professional,” Harbaugh said when asked about their relationship. “No hostility. Competitive. You know, we coached against each other in college and I anticipate that it will be competitive as we go forward playing each other twice a year. But genuine respect for the job that he does. Like all the rest of the coaches in the National Football League, respect. But competitive and we want to beat them.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh wasn’t quite a diplomatic, at least when it came to discussing his little brother’s former rival school.
“He took USC to the woodshed two of the last three years,” Harbaugh said. “Sorry, USC, but that’s a fact.”