It was about a year ago today that Jim Harbaugh first sat down with Alex Smith. As you'll recall, the quarterback had just finished another frustrating season in San Francisco and, initially at least, wanted nothing further to do with the franchise. He had other suitors, including the Seahawks. Harbaugh said the first thing he wanted to do was gauge whether Smith even wanted to return.
"I wanted to get to know him. I had never met him," Harbaugh said. "I was just kind of looking in through the keyhole. But I guess the things that I wanted to know, if you boiled it down to one thing, was, did he want to start? Did he want be in the fire? Or did he want to wear the ball cap backward and backup somewhere?
"And I really felt that he had the competitive drive, the (desire) to prove himself, him wanting to do it here. That's the thing that probably intrigued me the most. That character of wanting to come back and do it here in San Francisco, which is pretty rare - probably somewhere between rare and extinct. That's not just for football players. That's about anybody. ... And I thought we could really work with that character. To me that was special."
Smith and Harbaugh share an interesting pre-game ritual. Before the coin toss, Harbaugh walks up to Smith, looks him in the eye, and starts pounding away at the quarterback's shoulder pads. Smith calls it "the smacking."
I thought it was another way of Harbaugh communicating his trust, his support of Smith. Smith, however, said it had a more practical effect. "I like it," he said. "It's funny. When I was in college I used to always request a run play just because I wanted to get hit. I think a lot of quarterbacks are the same. We don't get hit during the week. We only get hit on game day. It just kind of pre-game, gets you ready. Get your helmet on, get your shoulder pads on and get smacked a little bit."
As expected, tight end Delanie Walker (jaw) won't play Saturday. There were no changes to the 49ers' participation report. Walker did not practice while CB Chris Culliver (knee), WR Ted Ginn (ankle), WR Kyle Williams (concussion) and DE Ray McDonald (hamstring) were limited. McDonald said his hamstring injury was to a different leg than the one he suffered earlier in the year and was not as serious.
-- Matt Barrows