The 49ers held a fan forum Tuesday night in which fans could ask questions of coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke over the phone. Roughly 4,000 calls were placed, according to the event's host, Joe Fonzi. About 25 callers got through during the hour-long session, including a nine year old who asked whether Alex Smith was still in the quarterback mix. "Yes, Alex Smith is definitely in it," Harbaugh replied. (Alex Smith haters: Please direct your venom toward the nine year old).
-- On Frank Gore perhaps getting more rest in 2011:
Harbaugh: "Frank Gore - having studied our team, our personnel and other backs across the league - I really think Frank Gore is one of the best running backs in the National Football League, the most complete back. To talk about his carries - Frank Gore's a guy that doesn't want to come out. He wants to be in there every single down. But I believe you make a great point. And that's, can he have more production by coming off the field at times? And I think (Anthony) Dixon did a tremendous job last year. I think his productivity has grown and will be even more elevated this year. So I think he'll be able to take some of those carries. Now Frank may not want to hear that, but I think your point is a valid one. And that's being fresh, alternating backs at times ... But it won't be the type of thing where we're going to have Frank coming off the field too much because he's one of the best backs in the league in my opinion ."
Editorial comment: Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary also talked a lot during the offseason about giving Gore more rest but never followed up on that during the regular season. It was also notable that Harbaugh didn't mention Brian Westbrook, who is scheduled for free agency.
-- Another caller asked Harbaugh if he was going to be more creative in the running game:
Harbaugh: "We have backs that can run a wide variety of running plays in terms of, they can run it between the tackles, we can toss it to them and get it on the edge. We've got offensive linemen that are athletic, that can pull, that can be physical up front. So really we can be creative. We can be creative with the personnel we have offensively. We have tight ends that can set the etc. You talk about Vernon Davis - that is a guy that can control the line of scrimmage and set an edge for you when you want to kick out and run up inside or you want to set the edge and run the ball outside. And all that marries in the play-action game and the passing game."
-- Fonzi asked Harbaugh whether he has been instructing players on the new playbook. The 49ers would face a huge obstacle if an extended lockout begins March 4 and players end up having a limited offseason to learn both a new offensive and defensive playbook.
Harbaugh: "As a coaching staff, we are putting together the playbook and getting things down on paper and getting ready for those minicamps and offseason workouts. But now is the players' time off. They're not required to be here. They're not required to come to meetings or come to workouts until March 14, which is the first day of the offseason training. So to answer your question, no, there's been no meetings or anything of that nature."
Editorial comment: An extended lockout would hurt the 49ers perhaps more than any other team considering they have three new coordinators and perhaps no continuity at quarterback, either.
-- Henry from San Jose - an Alex Smith supporter - asked Harbaugh what he's looking for in a quarterback.
Harbaugh: "First of all, a competitive guy. A winner. Somebody that has great athletic instincts, somebody that is very accurate throwing the ball. A quick-minded guy that can think fast on his feet and make decisions quickly, has leadership ability, understands timing and makes really good decisions. ... I noticed on the board here that you typed in that you really liked Alex Smith, and I agree with you. I like him very much, too."
Editorial comment: Looking at Harbaugh's criteria, Smith is athletic and he mostly has been accurate. But he hasn't exactly been quick-minded, especially when he has been asked to learn new offenses.
* The first question was whether the team would make a play for Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb. Baalke said he couldn't discuss players who are currently on other teams. Also, trades can't occur until the CBA is complete. As he's said before, Baalke said the 49ers would "pursue all available opportunities to improve the position."
* Harbaugh said the team's defense would be a variable 3-4 scheme. He used the word "aggressive" a couple of times and drew comparisons to the two teams that played in the Super Bowl, Green Bay and Pittsburgh. Incidently, Vic Fangio is scheduled to make his media debut tomorrow (Wednesday). Look for more about the 49ers' new defense tomorrow.
• Harbaugh on the possibility of a lockout: "What we can do right now is just prepare that there's not going to be a lockout, like there's not going to be a work stoppage." He said he's already planned out the team's offseason schedule - workouts, minicamps, OTAs - through training camp. Of course, an extended lockout would eliminate many of those events. "If that happens," Harbaugh said, "we're going to have to roll with it."
-- Matt Barrows