Earlier this week, 49ers team President Jed York, appearing on KNBR radio, left the door open for quarterback Alex Smith, an unrestricted free agent after March 3, to return to the team. New head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has met with Smith, also refused to slam it shut.
"I'm not into absolutes and alwayses and nevers and those kind of bold statements," Harbaugh said in a brief session with reporters this afternoon. "We're into evaluation, and that will be of Alex and any player on the football team."
Harbaugh said he's had sit-down sessions with Smith and a number of other players and has talked on the phone with others. He and his staff are evaluating each of the players, especially the ones, like Smith, who are scheduled to be free agents.
Asked if it seemed as if Smith wanted to return, Harbaugh said, "I don't want to speak for Alex. But he strikes me as somebody who's open. His vision for himself. His vision for how that relates to the 49ers I just think is to-be-determined. So (he's) going through the process in his mind for him and his career and how that relates to us."
Harbaugh said that a number of players fell into that category. "My thing is, this is a new time. This is like the Etch-a-Sketch when you were a kid, that plastic piece you would lift up. There was a lot written on there and when you lift it up, there's a new, clean slate there. Everything that comes is to be determined -- what's going to be written there."
Harbaugh said he has retained four of the coaches from Mike Singletary's 2010 staff. They are: Mike Solari, who will coach the offensive line with new hire Tim Drevno; Tom Rathman, who will coach running backs; Jim Tomsula, who will coach defensive line; and Ray Brown. Last year, Brown coached the offensive line alongside Solari. This year Harbaugh said Brown will coach offensive tackles and tight ends. Harbaugh said offensive coordinator Greg Roman will double as the lead tight end coach. "It's a big number of guys," Harbaugh said. "When you talk tight ends and offensive line, it's a large number. ... We want to make sure everyone's getting coached."
The team also has agreed to a deal with veteran NFL special teams coach Brad Seely to be the new special teams coordinator. Seely spent the last two years with the Browns. The team also has hired Ejiro Evero, a former UC Davis defensive back, as a quality control coach. Evero has been a defensive quality control coach with the Bucaneers and last year was the special teams coordinator/safeties coach with the University of Redlands.
At Stanford, Harbaugh divided the passing- and running-game duties among his assistants. He said the 49ers will have one offensive coordinator - Roman - but that there will be "lead" guys who assist Roman in certain categories. "The kind of the way we've evolved is working in groups, working in tandem, working in trio - whether it's short-yardage and goal line or red zone or third down ... two-minute," he said. "It's kind of the evolution we've come to."
Odds & Ends
* While general manager Trent Baalke will head to the Senior Bowl on Sunday, Harbaugh said he would remain at team headquarters and do film work on upcoming free agents. That's a bit of a surprise considering there are six draft-worthy quarterbacks who will be at the Senior Bowl.
* Said Harbaugh about the players he's met: "That's the thing that's struck me since I've been here. It's a hungry group - guys that haven't been to the playoffs."
* Best quote? Harbaugh was asked, because of his reputation for developing quarterbacks, whether the team could function with a mid-level quarterback or whether it needed a top-flight quarterback. Harbaugh: "Do we need a top-flight quarterback? Do human beings need air to breathe?
-- Matt Barrows