Early rising Spikes makes impression on Harbaugh

The 49ers have offered no public assurances that free-agent-to-be Takeo Spikes will be back in San Francisco in 2011, but the team captain and 13-year veteran has clearly made an impression on coach Jim Harbaugh.

At about 7 a.m. Monday, Harbaugh saw the 34-year-old linebacker just as Spikes was finishing a workout at the team’s facility.

“I just kind of hollered to him and he said ‘This is my morning coffee,’” Harbaugh said. “I never heard an athlete or anybody say anything like that. I just thought that was really cool. That’s what wakes him up. That’s what gets him going. That’s what gets his day started. We’ve had a lot of players doing that and it’s great to see the commitment and dedication out of them.”

• Harbaugh is a conquering hero in Indianapolis where he established his “Captain Comeback” moniker and had the Colts a near-miss Hail Mary away from reaching the Super Bowl in 1996.

Harbaugh’s popularity was evident Thursday as he walked down a long corridor at Lucas Oil Stadium. A 49ers spokesman was attempting to lead Harbaugh to a private area where he could speak with team’s beat writers, but the stroll took endless pit stops as local media and others who wanted a moment halted his progress.

An ex-college player stopped him and explained that he played against Harbaugh’s team at the University of San Diego. He was a long snapper who played for Marist. “The Red Foxes!” Harbaugh said.

Another man whose son had once met Harbaugh also got a brief audience. “How is he doing?” Harbaugh inquired.

“It’s been a bit of a memory lane because those were signature years of my life,” Harbaugh said of being back in the city where he played from 1994-97. “I had a child that was born here, and great relationships and winning that we had here in Indianapolis.”

• NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi said Harbaugh’s brand of power ball that he ran with the likes of bruising running back Toby Gerhart at Stanford will need to be dramatically altered in San Francisco.

“I think Jim’s got to change his offense,” said Lombardi, who was in the personnel department in Oakland when Harbaugh was an assistant with the team in 2002-03. “I mean, you can’t run Power-O 50 times like he did at Stanford and be effective. So I think he has to change and grow offensively, which he clearly can do. I think that’s the challenge that waits. And then there’s the gap between college and pro that obviously has to get made up.

“Jim’s last year was 2003 in the NFL. To me, every three years the NFL dramatically changes over and over again. It becomes a different league. So I think his work is challenging. It will take him a little bit of time and in this offseason he can utilize the time to prepare him for what he needs to do.”

Here’s Thursday’s newspaper story, which touches on Harbaugh’s humble beginnings — and accurate quarterback reports — as a first-year NFL assistant in 2002.

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