Jim Harbaugh on Michael Crabtree, Alex Smith, and Saturday’s game vs. the Texans

SANTA CLARA – Jim Harbaugh spoke at the podium this morning at 11:00 a.m.

He changed his mind for the second time in four days regarding how much his starters will play this Saturday versus the Houston Texans. Now he’s saying Alex Smith will only get a couple series to begin the game, and Colin Kaepernick will come in early to play with the first team. He says the focus on the game is to evaluate the key backups who are fighting for roster spots. So he’s taking a non-traditional approach to this third exhibition game, unless he changes his mind between now and Saturday, in which case he would play the starters for the first half just like other NFL teams traditionally do.

He also spoke about Michael Crabtree and Alex Smith specifically.

Here are selected quotes from the interview.


Q: How do you figure out what you’re going to do with guys like Shawntae Spencer and Michael Crabtree who you haven’t seen practice much?

HARBAUGH: You go off of previous tape. Both those players have played in the league, and played at a high level, you can go off of that. The other thing you can go off of is what they’re absorbing, what they’re retaining on the field and in meetings. There’s a level which you can evaluate there – poor, medium, outstanding. So you can predict how they will fit in once they’re healthy.

Q: Will those two guys go in as starters when they’re back?

HARBAUGH: No, I wouldn’t say that. Football players get better by practicing football. We’ve seen that out here and that’s what we go by – who’s practicing better, who’s playing better in games, who’s playing well.

Q: How has Michael Crabtree prepared himself?

HARBAUGH: What are you asking?

Q: What’s he doing behind the scenes to get himself prepared?

HARBAUGH: He’s rehabbing.

Q: I mean mentally.

HARBAUGH: He’s been outstanding with his participation in the meetings. His understanding and knowledge of what we’re trying to do is very good.

Q: He’s had a couple of injuries in the same area, will he have to get a new type of shoe to protect that foot?

HARBAUGH: I won’t go into what he’s going to do protect it. That’s really in the doctors’ hands and the trainers’ hands, exactly what his rehab program is, his timeline for coming back.

Q: What are you impressions of Vernon Davis so far?

HARBAUGH: I’m really pleased with Vernon. I like watching Vernon practice, I like watching him play. He’s tremendously explosive, blue collar guy when it comes to work on the practice field and in the weight room and in the meetings. He’s a pro, a good pro all the way.

Q: Is Alex going to start on Saturday?


Q: Will he play the whole first half and some in the third quarter?

HARBAUGH: No, I don’t think that’s the way it’s going to go. I think Colin will get in fairly early. I’d like see Colin play with some of the ones, maybe after two series. We’ll see how it goes. Sometimes it depends on how long is the first series? How long is the second series? But, early into the game, and the idea of playing some of our twos and threes more in this game is also the way that we’re leaning going into this ballgame. Not so much the traditional way of playing starters for three quarters like it’s been historically done in the third preseason game. And the reason for that is there are guys who are fighting for their life, for their football life, and I want them to have the ability to play in the game, but also see them against other starters. See them against the Texans’ starters. So we’ll make some evaluations based on that at the end of this ballgame. And we’ve done that in practice this week, more of an emphasis to get our key backups in a role where they can compete.

Q: Do you expect either of Dominique Zeigler or Chris Hogan to play on Saturday?

HARBAUGH: Yes, now’s the time. It’s in their hands and you want to put them in a position where they can have it in their hands. That’s what I anticipate from those two guys, and I think they’re ready to do. We’d like to see some more out of Zeigler. But he’s been running around. He’s been catching routes. He’s surprised me in what he can do so quickly.

Q: Is Saturday the last competitive moment between Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick?

HARBAUGH: I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t say that at all. That’s just one example, there will be others. I want to see guys get up to speed against other teams’ starters. That type of competitive environment, just looking forward, what’s going to happen during the season. I’d rather have Colin ready and experienced in football with the starters, against the starters in a National Football League setting before we have to get to that point, so that’s the idea, and that’s the idea with some other players as well. Get them ready before they need to be ready.

Q: Will Alex return to the game after he exists?

HARBAUGH: It’s possible, that’s possible. Like I said earlier in the week, you want to get your starters into situational type of situations in the game. He may return for a two-minute drill or another series. It could be, we’ll just have to see how it plays out and make a battle-field decision. I’d like to get some backed up, some two-minute with Alex.

Q: How about Josh McCown, will you get him in the game?

HARBAUGH: I really think we can. I’d really like to see all of our quarterbacks play in this game.

Q: Will you have the same philosophy for the last exhibition game as well?

HARBAUGH: I think so. I went into this week with two plans, really. We were prepared to practice going into this week. I wanted to get to this point before making a decision. We’re going with what I anticipated going with, and that’s to prepare the backups along with the starters, but more emphasis than was in the other plan with the twos and threes. Looking back at a lot of seasons that I was involved with pro football, the third preseason game is the important one, but it’s really important too in evaluating your football team – who’s going to make the team, who’s going to be on the practice squad, along with getting starters those opportunities, so it’s a bit of a battle there, but there will be more reps given to the younger players, some of the keys backups trying to make the team.

Q: Are you committed to having three quarterbacks on the roster?

HARBAUGH: We’ll see, we’ll see. Not committed, no I wouldn’t use that word.

My Question: When are you going to announce cuts, after this week? After next week?

HARBAUGH: Next Tuesday and next Saturday.

Q: Just to clarify, if Alex comes back into the game, will he play with the ones or the twos?

HARBAUGH: It would be ones or a combination of the ones and twos.


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