Jim Harbaugh on Alex Smith: “He’s every bit the elite QB as there is playing in the game right now.”

SANTA CLARA – Here’s the transcript of Jim Harbaugh’s Wednesday press conference.

Q: Do you place any added significance on this game because there could be playoff implications?

HARBAUGH: There’s great significance to this game. The biggest thing is it’s the next game. That always makes it the most important game.

Q: What’s impressive to you about their win on Sunday?

HARBAUGH: So many things: What a good football team they have, how well they play on the defensive front, and the same with the offensive line, just a really, really good team in the lines. A very good, elite quarterback. The skill positions, receivers and backs, are outstanding. Just across the board – linebackers, secondary, just and outstanding football team. Very good special teams. Very disciplined team. Very physical team. Really play well together.

Q: How does it affect your preparation not knowing if Hakeem Nicks or Ahmad Bradshaw will play?

HARBAUGH: We’ll prepare like they’ll play, and we’ll prepare like their backups will play as well.

Q: David Baas had exposure to the playbook you gave Alex Smith in June. Is that a concern?

HARBAUGH: I don’t think so. There’s eight games on tape. I’m sure they have a good idea of what we do offensively.

Q: So the verbiage wouldn’t be a factor?

HARBAUGH: David won’t be in the huddle. I think they have what they have on tape and that’s the bulk of what they’ll go off of.

Q: Had you met Alex Smith before this season?

HARBAUGH: No, I hadn’t met Alex Smith until I got the job here.

Q: So all the stuff floating through the air, you don’t pay any attention to that?

HARBAUGH: I was looking through the keyhole, so to speak. Respected him as a player. I think people who know football and understand the game appreciate Alex Smith. He’s a very talented quarterback. He’s every bit the elite quarterback as there is playing in the game right now. Appreciate all the talent that he has and what he brings to our team.

Q: By saying that he’s an elite quarterback, do you look at his fourth quarter performances this season?

HARBAUGH: The whole body of work. There’s evidence no matter how you want to pick his performance apart.

Q: How does Frank Gore’s ankle feel?

HARBAUGH: I’m not in Frank’s skin. I never am. That’s always a hard thing when everybody asks me: “How’s Frank going to be this afternoon in practice? How’s he going to be on Sunday?” It’s just hard to predict how somebody else is going to feel exactly with any accuracy.

Q: How do you feel about where he’s at?

HARBAUGH: I feel good. From what Frank said, yeah, he should be healthy to practice today. We’ll go from there.

Q: He’s on pace for the most carries he’s ever had in his career. Are you more cognizant or careful about getting him fewer carries as the season goes on?

HARBAUGH: Cognizant of it, yes.

Q: Are the additional carries more a factor of you guys having leads late in games?

HARBAUGH: That has been a factor. It’s an obvious one. We’ve had some leads in the fourth quarter where you’re going to run the ball more as opposed to throwing it when you’re down two scores.

Q: How impressive has David Akers been?

HARBAUGH: He has been darn near perfect. I can’t imagine there’s been a kicker who’s brought more to their team than David Akers has this year. You look at the touchdowns, you look at the field goals, the degree of difficulty on those field goals – fifty-plus, forty, forty-plus. You have the wind here in Candlestick. He’s kicked such a straight, true ball and the elements haven’t been a factor much. He’s been rock solid on pressure kicks. When you factor that into the degree of difficulty, he’s been dominant.

Q: Did you know in advance that his leg was this strong?

HARBAUGH: We felt like he was the best kicker in the game and he’s delivered on that.

Q: On Sunday it seems there were some rushed, late shifts at the end of the play call. Were they rushed?

HARBAUGH: Sometimes they’re designed that way, sometimes you get the look late and make the adjustment.

Q: Is there a downside to having a good kicker? Once you get inside the 40 yard line maybe subconsciously you wouldn’t be as aggressive as if you didn’t trust him so much?

HARBAUGH: No. There’s no downside to having a good kicker.

Q: Chilo Rachal and Shawntae Spencer aren’t getting into the game much. How are they handling that?

HARBAUGH: They’ve really been team guys, especially Chilo. I really have to take my hat off to him. He’s really chomping at the bit to get in there. After practice, before practice, really on point. He plays and contributes for us in our extra O-linemen package, on field goals, on kickoff returns. He’s prepared like a starter.

Q: You named a play ‘Skywalker.’ Why? What did the players think?

HARBAUGH: They knew. When were at the Arlington Cemetary, Sergeant Skywalker just finished up talking to the team, he had ten minutes worth of comments with the team, on the history of the tomb of the unknown soldier. When he was done John Morton and I looked at each other and we said, “We need a Skywalker, and it’s got to be good!”

Q: He’ll be on the sideline for the Baltimore game?

HARBAUGH: Yes.

Q: Why hasn’t the offense been able to strike quickly?

HARBAUGH: Not one thing. We’ll just keep working on our quick strike ability and see if we can get that better.

Q: Has that been something you guys are looking at?

HARBAUGH: We’re trying to improve in all areas. See where the heck we can get a mile and half faster and one percent better each day. That’s the way we go about things.

Q: What’s the challenge of facing the Giants front four? What makes them so good?

HARBAUGH: They’re just fast, physical, upfield, strong men. Just strong people that are very athletic and that’s a formidable combination. And our line’s good to. We’ve got a good offensive line. That’s two opposing will that are going to be meeting each other in this ballgame. It will be outstanding to watch our guys compete in that kind of environment.

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