Jim Harbaugh has said he wants, even expects, Alex Smith to return to the 49ers every time he's been asked about the quarterback. "I strongly feel that Alex is going to come back here,'' he said Saturday. But perhaps the coach's actions speak even louder than his words. Harbaugh also said that he has given Smith the team's offensive playbook despite the fact that Smith, an unrestricted free agent, isn't on the team.
In normal circumstances, coaches don't let their playbooks off the premises for fear of them falling into enemy hands. Giving one to a player who may wind up on another team is unheard of. All of which points strongly to Smith returning for his seventh season. Smith has a standing, one-year offer from the 49ers.
"He has not signed," Harbaugh said. "There's a leap of faith there."
On Friday, teams had a short window to meet with veteran players before the lockout was temporarily reinstated. Harbaugh said he met with Smith for 30 to 40 minutes, mostly to catch up on family matters. Smith and his wife are expecting their first baby any day now, which is another reason to think that Smith will remain with the 49ers this season.
On Friday, Harbaugh said that second-round draft pick Colin Kaepernick - as is the case with any player on the team - would compete for the starting spot. But on Saturday, Harbaugh gave the edge to Smith in a hypothetical competition. "Alex is definitely going to have the head start," Harbaugh said. "He's played in the NFL. ... If I'm a betting man, I'm betting on Alex Smith."
If the lockout is lifted, Harbaugh will get his first look at his team during a minicamp the weekend of May 14.
-- Matt Barrows