49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

November 30, 2012
Breaking news: Jim Harbaugh reveals something

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The 49ers press corp today successfully got Jim Harbaugh to divulge information. Yes! This is no easy feat, as anyone who has watched or listened to or read a transcript of a Harbaugh presser can attest. Harbaugh releases less information than the Politburo.

Among the critical items we were able to extricate:

* Ted Ginn is now the 49ers' emergency quarterback. The 49ers typically dress two quarterbacks - Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith. If both got hurt in a game, it would be up to the emergency QB to run the offense. That used to be Kyle Williams, who was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday. It's now Ginn, who played the position in high school and, as a coach's son, probably is a good choice.

* The emergency kicker is either Andy Lee or Isaac Sopoaga. (Yes, I said Sopoaga). David Akers (pelvis) will play in Sunday's game. But if his injury is problematic, the 49ers would have to turn to a substitute. Lee also is the team's holder. I assume Kaepernick or Smith could handle that job, too. But, boy, it sure would be interesting to see a 335-pounder boot a game winner or even an extra point. Sopoaga played rugby in his native Samoa and has experience as a kicker.

* Today was the first time the 49ers have practiced on their turf field all season. The rain forced them off their usual grass fields, but Harbaugh said it was a positive since they'll be on turf in the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday.

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Harbaugh, however, clammed up when asked about his backup punt and kick returners. The depth chart lists them both as rookie LaMichael James. "Ah, I think we've gone about as far into the depth chart and the plan as we're going to go there," he said. "You get a gold star though on your forehead for getting that information from me."

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Three 49ers who usually are active on game days will not be in uniform Sunday. They are: Kendall Hunter and Kyle Williams, who are on injured reserve, and Demarcus Dobbs, who did not make the trip to St. Louis. In addition, Darcel McBath is listed as questionable with a concussion.

Newly elevated linebacker Michael Wilhoite will take one of those spots and James probably will be in uniform for the first time as well.

- Matt Barrows

November 30, 2012
Dobbs arrested after car crash, won't make trip to St. Louis

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Backup defensive end Demarcus Dobbs was arrested this morning after he was involved in a solo car crash in Santa Clara. The California Highway Patrol said DUI was suspected and that Dobbs, who turned 25 today, was arrested for marijuana possession. CSN Bay Area first reported Dobbs' arrest.

Highway Patrol Officer D.J. Sarabia said the incident occurred at 3:45 a.m. on southbound San Tomas Expressway in Santa Clara, the city in which the 49ers have their practice facility and are building their new stadium. Sarabia said Dobbs was driving a 2011 Cadillac. He was not injured in the accident and no one else was in the car. Sarabia said Dobbs agreed to a chemical test, the results of which have not yet been completed.

The 49ers have declared him out for Sunday's game against the Rams and Dobbs will not make the trip to St. Louis. "The 49ers are aware of the recent matter involving Demarcus Dobbs," read a statement from the team. "We are gathering the relevant facts as it pertains to this situation. We have been in contact with both Demarcus and the League office. He will not be making the trip to St. Louis, and we will reserve further comment at this time."

Dobbs, who made the squad in 2011 after going undrafted out of Georgia, plays both defensive end and tight end and is a core member of the 49ers' special teams. He tops the statistical chart maintained by special teams coordinator Brad Seely.

Dobbs is the second member of the 49ers defense to be arrested this year. NFL sack leader Aldon Smith was arrested for DUI in Miami in January. He qualified for a program to reduce the charge to reckless driving. Smith also was stabbed at a house party in June and was involved in a rollover car accident in September.

- Matt Barrows

November 30, 2012
Photo gallery: 49ers' starting quarterbacks since Joe Montana left

The 49ers traditionally are known to feature great quarterbacks. Topping the list are glowing names such as Joe Montana and Steve Young, heirs to a position made glamorous by Y.A. Tittle and John Brodie, and even Frankie Albert in the 1950s. Jeff Garcia filled the position capably after Young's departure, but transition from Garcia to the regime of Alex Smith and current favorite Colin Kaepernick was filled with lesser quarterbacking lights. Here's a collection of photos of every quarterback to start for the 49ers since Montana's final season with the 49ers in 1990.

Photo gallery: 49ers starting quarterbacks since Joe Montana's days

November 30, 2012
Bunkley fined $20K for kicking Boone; Wilhoite promoted to 53-man roster

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David Akers had a field-goal blocked with 1:13 left to play in Sunday's game in New Orleans. The costlier kick came on the same play when Saints defensive lineman Broderick Bunkley kicked offensive lineman Alex Boone in the head when Boone was on the ground.

The NFL fined Bunkley $20,000 for the kick. He also was penalized for a personal foul at the time and was disqualified from the game. He will not be suspended.

Boone was tangling with several Saints linemen when the incident occurred. "I don't know why (he did it), Boone said after the game. "Maybe he was mad at me."

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The 53rd player on the 49ers' active roster? It's linebacker/fullback Michael Wilhoite, who was promoted from the practice squad today, according to his agent. Wilhoite was a teammate of ex-49er receiver Joe Hastings -- who made a similar jump from the practice squad last year -- at Washburn University. He joined the 49ers practice squad last year.

The move means that the 49ers will not sign a kicker to a short-term contract and that David Akers' pelvis injury will not prevent him from kicking Sunday in St. Louis. Two veteran kickers, Nate Kaeding and Billy Cundiff, tried out for the 49ers on Tuesday.

If Wilhoite plays Sunday, it would be on special teams. With an opening on the practice squad, the team re-signed safety Eddie Whitley, who was released earlier in the week.

-- Matt Barrows

November 29, 2012
Alex Smith: A tough pill to swallow, for sure

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Alex Smith said today the only thing he did to lose his starting job was get a concussion.

"You state your case with your play. I feel like I've done that," said Smith, who was in the midst of his best season and who actually threw a touchdown pass on his most recent play.

Smith said he was disappointed in the decision Jim Harbaugh made this week, especially considering his success - and the team's success - this season. "This is such a great team, such a great group of guys, something special going on," Smith said. "A tough pill to swallow, for sure."

Smith hit upon that theme - that he no longer is front and center in what could end up as amazing season - later in the approximately five-minute interview.

"It stings the most because I really feel like there's something special going on here," he said. "You sacrifice and you invest so much time. Like I said, I really feel like I hadn't done anything but get a concussion to really to facilitate this. I feel like I was playing good football."

Smith, however, did not lash out at Harbaugh or Colin Kaepernick, who will be making his third straight start on Sunday. "No resentment," he said of Harbaugh. "No, I don't get to make those decisions. That's what he gets paid to do. He's the head coach. I play football. That's what I'm going to continue to do, continue to get ready. And then make the most of my next opportunity."

Smith said he and Harbaugh had a discussion about the move.

November 29, 2012
November reign: Aldon Smith honored for remarkable month

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When Aldon Smith played his first game in the month of November, he was having a nice season. At that point, he had 7 1/2 sacks, which put him behind the likes of J.J. Watt, Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Cameron Wake in the NFL sack race.

The month ends on Friday with Smith having 16 ½ sacks, sitting alone on first place in the sack race and with him having a fantastic year, one worthy of defensive player of the year. With five games left, Smith has a very good shot of owning the NFL record for sacks in a season. The current record holder, Michael Strahan, had 22 1/2 in 2001.

The league acknowledged that today by making Smith the Defensive Player of the Month for November. The month included the 49ers' bye week (Nov. 4), but Smith went on such a tear the next three weeks that he was the obvious choice. It's also worth noting that Smith has been dealing with a shoulder injury this month and is on the 49ers' injury report. He was listed as "limited" on Wednesday.

Nov. 11, vs. St. Louis: 2 sacks, 6 tackles
Nov. 19, vs. Chicago: 5 ½ sacks, 7 tackles, 2 force fumbles
Nov. 25, at New Orleans: 1 ½ sacks, 5 tackles

Sack Leaders
1. Aldon Smith, 16.5
2. J.J. Watt, 14.5
3. Von Miller, 14.0
4. DeMarcus Ware, 10.0
5. Cameron Wake, 9.5

- Matt Barrows

November 28, 2012
Walker misses practice; Akers, Aldon Smith limited

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Tight end Delanie Walker, who took a hard shot to the hip, was the only 49er who didn't practice today. Walker said Tuesday the injury was not a long-term issue and that he'd play Sunday in St. Louis. If he can't, undrafted rookie Garrett Celek would see more action. Walker led all receivers with 81 receiving yards Sunday.

Meanwhile, two 49ers were in black, no-contact jerseys Wednesday. NFL sack leader Aldon Smith is dealing with a shoulder injury. He has missed a play in each of the last two games. Safety and special teams player Darcel McBath apparently suffered a concussion Sunday. Both were limited.

Kicker David Akers also was limited with a pelvis injury. Akers was observed kicking field goals Wednesday, some from as far away as 50 yards. The 49ers likely will sign either Nate Kaeding or Billy Cundiff to a short-term contract if Akers is unable to play Sunday.

The rest of the 49ers on the injury report practiced in full. They are: CB Tarell Brown (knee), T Anthony Davis (finger), S Dashon Goldson (ribs, calf), LB Tavares Gooden (elbow), RB Frank Gore (wrist, ribs), WR Mario Manningham (shoulder), S Donte Whitner (knee), LB Patrick Willis (shoulder).

For the Rams, 49er killer Danny Amendola missed practice and was in a walking boot, just as he was at this time last week.

LB Mario Haggan (elbow), RB Steven Jackson (foot), DE Robert Quinn (concussion), C Scott Wells (knee) also did not practice.

-- Matt Barrows

November 28, 2012
Gunslinger mentality: Kaepernick's got it, Smith does not

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Colin Kaepernick's family is from Wisconsin, so naturally he grew up rooting for the Green Bay Packers. And when you root for the Packers in the 2000s, you root for Brett Favre.

"I always watched Brett Favre," Kaepernick said today. "I loved the way he played the game. He had no fear of what the defense was going to do. He was going to go out there and take his shots."

Asked if, like Favre, he considered himself a gunslinger, Kaepernick shied away. "That's not for me to say," he said.

His teammates, however, believe that Kaepernick's a gunslinger, or at least that he plays without fear like Favre. Several have raved about his composure Sunday in the deafening Superdome, especially the way he converted third-and-long situations.

Tight end Delanie Walker said Kaepernick isn't afraid to take risks. "That's just Kap being young, so he takes more chances," Walker said today. "Alex (Smith) is the more steady quarterback, controlling the offense, making sure we get another down. Kap, he will take a chance and go for the big play."

The statistics bear that out. Smith is in the midst of his best - and most aggressive - season. He's averaging 7.98 yards per attempt, the highest of his career. Kaepernick, on the other hand, averages 9.2 yards per attempt, which is by far the highest of any starting quarterback in the league, albeit he has only two starts under his belt.

Then there's this stat from ESPN: Kaepernick has six 30-plus yard pass plays on 74 attempts. Smith has six 30-plus yard plays on 217 attempts.

The Favre analogy also applies to Smith. Remember Urban Meyer's famous "non-functional quote" about Smith in 2005? Well, there was a bit more to what he said, including a reference to Favre.

"He is a guy that, however, until he understands it, he is non-functional," Meyer said of Smith. " He is a guy that, I keep hearing how Brett Favre kind of makes something out of nothing and is a person that runs around to make a play. Alex Smith is not that kind of player. "

That appears to be the biggest distinction between Kaepernick and Smith: The former is more dangerous than the latter. That danger, of course, has two sides. Favre is the NFL's all-time leader in touchdowns. He's also its all-time leader in interceptions.

- Matt Barrows

November 28, 2012
Akers ailing, 49ers could sign temporary replacement

There's a reason why the 49ers have an open roster spot and were looking at kickers Tuesday. Jim Harbaugh revealed that kicker David Akers is injured - "Working through something," Harbaugh said - and might not be available for the team's game Sunday against the Rams.

The 49ers gave tryouts to veterans Nate Kaeding and Billy Cundiff on Tuesday. Both are right-footed kickers while Akers is a lefty. Holder Andy Lee has held for right-footed kickers before - most recently Jeff Reed in 2010.

It's not known when Akers was injured. He made a 27-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter Sunday, but then missed two others, the second of which was blocked. The 49ers, meanwhile, put Kendall Hunter and Kyle Williams on injured reserve this week, which opened up two roster spots.

One was filled by taking rookie running back Jewel Hampton off the non-football injury list.

- Matt Barrows

November 28, 2012
Harbaugh sticks with the hot hand, picks Kaepernick

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Jim Harbaugh is going with the hot hand over the steady hand.

Harbaugh today said that Colin Kaepernick would make his third straight start - against the Rams in St. Louis on Sunday. Asked if that meant that Kaepernick was the starter for the rest of the season, Harbaugh said, "No, I wouldn't assume anything. I know you probably will, but I'd assume nothing."

Asked if the 49ers should expect some bumps in the road with Kaepernick, who made his first start two weeks, ago, Harbaugh said the coaching staff tries to prepare for every scenario. "As a coach, as a team, we don't fear any momentum or any circumstance or any man."

"Colin, we believe, has the hot hand," Harbaugh said. "We're going with Colin."

Harbaugh informed the team of his decision following the morning walk-through. Kaepernick spoke with reporters afterward but the man he has displaced as the starting quarterback, Alex Smith, was not available. "Alex is a class act all the way," Harbaugh said. "He'll prepare as if he's the starter."

Harbaugh has heaped praise on Smith for the last year and a half, going so far as to call him "elite" and worthy of the Pro Bowl last season. "All these decisions are difficult," he said today, "and you think through them as best you can."

The players mostly parroted Harbaugh in saying that the team is in an excellent situation, one in which they have two quarterbacks who can deliver wins. Smith had guided the 49ers to a 6-2 record - and to within the precipice of the Super Bowl last year - until suffering a concussion Nov. 11.

Said Michael Crabtree: "We have relationships with both of the quarterbacks. We're going to make plays whoever the starter is."

Frank Gore, meanwhile, vowed that the decision would not disrupt the positive chemistry in the locker room. "We're cool," he said. "If it's Alex, we're going to be behind Alex. If it's Kap, we're going to be behind Kap."

Gore, who entered the league in 2005 with Smith, acknowledged that the decision was tough for the former No. 1 draft pick. "But coach (Harbaugh) makes a decision, and that's what we have to go with."

- Matt Barrows

November 28, 2012
Fisher says Justin Smith does a great job in the 'grab game'

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Jim Harbaugh probably won't be firing off another press release after this one ... we think.

For the second time this season, an opposing coach has noted that 49ers defensive end Justin Smith tends to get a little grabby when it comes to running stunts with NFL sack leader Aldon Smith.

"The one that's most effective is the grab game, it's been in the game forever," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said when asked about the stunts the two players run. "And Justin does a great job of it, a really good job of it."

Earlier this year, Giants defensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said Justin Smith "gets away with murder" when it comes to holding offensive linemen. That prompted Harbaugh to type up and send off a press release accusing Gilbride and the Giants of trying to influence the officials.

"Kevin Gilbride's outrageous, irrational statement regarding Justin Smith's play is, first, an absurd analogy," Harbaugh said. "Second, it is an incendiary comment targeting one of the truly exemplary players in this league. It's obvious that the Giants coaching staff's sole purpose is to use their high visibility to both criticize and influence officiating."

Asked today if he was implying that Justin Smith is holding on the stunts, Fisher noted he wasn't crying foul.

"I'm not implying, I'm just stating facts," he said. "And I'm not complaining. Everybody does it, and Justin does a great job of it. As long as his feet are moving toward the quarterback, it won't get called. It's a legal act. Now if he grabs and pulls backward - a pull and shoot -- it's not necessarily legal but it's not something that's going to be called."

Fisher had a good line during the conference call. He called the start of Sunday's game in St. Louis "the sixth quarter" after the teams tied on Nov. 11. ... Like every other coach the 49ers have faced in recent weeks, he said the Rams were preparing for both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick this week.

- Matt Barrows

November 28, 2012
49ers look at two kickers known for playoff misses

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The two kickers spied trying out for the 49ers on Tuesday turned out to be Nate Kaeding and Billy Cundiff, according the Howard Balzer of the Sports Xchange. Presumably the tryouts are due to David Akers' recent struggles. Akers was not seen in the locker room Tuesday.

Akers began the season with an NFL-record-tying 63-yard field goal in Green Bay, which earned him a display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's been inconsistent of late, however. He missed a game-winning attempt against the Rams in overtime on Nov. 11 and was 1-3 on Sunday with one of his attempts blocked. Akers currently ranks 29th in the NFL in field-goal percentage (70.4).

Head coach Jim Harbaugh and special teams coach Brad Seely, meanwhile, watched Kaeding and Cundiff in action Tuesday. Both kickers have been consistent over long careers, but both also are best known for big misses in the playoffs.

Kaeding, 30, missed potentially game-winning or game-tying field goals for the Chargers in the 2005, 2007 and 2009 playoffs. In a divisional playoffs game against the Jets in 2009, he missed all three of his attempts - from 36, 57, and 40 yards - and the Jets won 17-14. Overall, Kaeding is 8-15 in the playoffs.

He suffered a torn ACL in 2011 and dealt with a groin injury this year that eventually led to the Chargers signing Nick Novak. Outside of the playoffs, Kaeding has been outstanding, hitting 180 of 207 attempts.

Cundiff, meanwhile, missed a last-second, game-tying, 32-yard field goal for the Ravens against the Patriots last year in the AFC Championship game. Cundiff, 32, struggled earlier this year for the Redskins and was released.

Akers last year set an NFL record with 44 field goals and was a major component in the team's winning formula. Earlier this year, he said he always had been good about breaking out of slumps. His 70.4 percentage on field goals, however, is his lowest since he became a full-time kicker in 2000.

- Matt Barrows

November 27, 2012
Rosenhaus: If you want to keep all your good players, you have to get deals done now

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NaVorro Bowman's contract promised to be one of the more pricklier ones the 49ers had on their to-do list. After all, two of the team's best players, Bowman and Patrick Willis, play the same position. Moreover, Willis is the face of the 49ers. What would happen if Bowman wanted more money than Willis?

Bowman today said that in the end victories trumped dollar amounts.

"It's not really about money," he said. "At the end of the day, we all play this game and we get paid a good amount of money, but all in all people remember you for the wins, remember you for the team that you're a part of."

"In order for us to keep the guys we have together, we're going to have to give on each side and that's what was done. We worked together, and I wasn't mad about not getting paid more than Pat. He's my brother. We play together, play close together and we're making the same amount of money, just about. So I'm happy about it and won't lose any sleep over it."

It's easy to get a good night's rest when you are due to make as much as $45.25 million, $25.5 million of it guaranteed, which is what's called for in Bowman's five-year deal. Willis' contract is for $50 million, $29 million guaranteed.

Willis, in fact, was one of the first people who learned of the deal.

"As soon as I told him this morning - I wasn't supposed to, but I couldn't keep it from him," Bowman said. "He has a great deal to do with this, too, just playing beside him and him helping me through this season and last year. For me and him to be playing together for the next three years is just a great thing and we're excited about that."

Bowman's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said the two sides began negotiating at the start of the season, and he admitted they were "pretty far apart" at the time. Once the guaranteed portion was settled, he said, the rest fell into place.

November 27, 2012
49ers still have an open roster spot after busy day of transactions

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As expected, the 49ers today placed two key offensive players, running back Kendall Hunter (Achilles) and receiver Kyle Williams (ACL), on injured reserve and elevated running back Jewel Hampton to the active roster.

Hampton, an undrafted rookie, had been on the non-football injury list after having surgery to repair bone spurs in his ankle during the offseason. That means the 49ers currently have 52 players on their 53-man active roster. They could make another move, perhaps elevating someone from the practice squad, later this week.

Hunter was second on the team in rushing behind Frank Gore. Those backup carries promise to be divided among several runners, including Brandon Jacobs, Anthony Dixon and rookie LaMichael James, who is similar to Jacobs Hunter in stature. James has yet to play a snap this season; Jacobs has only one carry.

"He's been practicing hard," Gore said when asked about James. "I know he wants to play. I know if coach Harbaugh decides that he's the next guy (in at running back), coach (Tom) Rathman will get him ready to play."

Hampton has potential. The 5-9, 210 pounder scored seven touchdowns as a freshman at Iowa. He later transferred to Southern Illinois and rushed for 1,121 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.

Meanwhile, the team signed former Eagles receiver/returner Chad Hall to the practice squad and released safety Eddie Whitley from the squad.

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Neither Colin Kaepernick nor Alex Smith was made available to reporters today. Jim Harbaugh is expected on Wednesday to announce who will start Sunday's game in St. Louis (if word doesn't leak out before then).

No matter the decision, Gore vowed it won't affect the unity inside the 49ers locker room. "We're all as one," he said. "If it's Alex, we're going to be behind Alex. If it's Kap, we're going to be behind Kap."

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The 49ers invited some kickers in for tryouts today. David Akers missed a 50-yard field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter Sunday and had a 33-yard attempt blocked later in the game. The team does not release the names of tryout players.

- Matt Barrows

November 27, 2012
49ers sign All-Pro Bowman to a five-year extension

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It's not all bad news from the 49ers today. The team announced All-Pro inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman has signed a five-year contract extension. That means that Bowman, who had another year remaining on his rookie deal is signed through 2018. It also means that all four of the team's starting outside linebackers are locked up through the 2015 season.

Bowman leads the team in tackles, and together with Patrick Willis, is one half of arguably the best inside linebacker duo in the NFL. Their speed and tackling ability make the 49ers defense unique in that neither has to come off the field when opposing defenses go with three wide receivers. Both made the AP All-Pro team last season.

"NaVorro epitomizes what we look for in a 49er," general manager Trent Baalke said in a release. "We are excited that the All Pro tandem of Willis and Bowman will be together in red and gold for years to come."

The 49ers have the least amount of salary cap of any team this season. That, however, is because the team adjusted the contracts of several players so that they won't count as much in coming years. That now includes Bowman's salary. He will make $540,000 and $575,000 in base salary this year and next. NFL.com reports that the five-year deal is worth $45.25 million overall, $25.5 million of it guaranteed.

Willis signed a five-year extension two and half years ago. One of the questions was whether the 49ers could afford to keep both and, more to the point, whether Bowman would want more money than Willis, who is the face of the 49ers. Contract figures always are fuzzy, but Willis' contract was reported to be worth $50 million with $29 million guaranteed.

Bowman's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, attended the team's recent home game against the Bears.

Aldon Smith: signed through 2014
Patrick Willis: 2015
Ahmad Brooks: 2017
NaVorro Bowman: 2018

Both Bowman and Willis are scheduled to take part in a press conference at 4 p.m.

-- Matt Barrows

November 27, 2012
Hunter suffered Achilles tear, not sprained ankle

What seemed like an ankle injury to Kendall Hunter in the third quarter Sunday turned out to be an Achilles tear, according to a source with knowledge of the injury. Although the 49ers have yet to make a roster move, that type of injury is certain to end Hunter's season. He had been the 49ers' second-leading runner behind Frank Gore, and perhaps more to the point, offered a nice change of pace to Gore's straight-ahead style.

With two roster openings forthcoming, the 49ers are expected to activate running back Jewel Hampton from NFI/reserved list and to promote someone from their practice squad. That player likely will be linebacker Michael Wilhoite, who also played fullback in the offseason, or safety Michael Thomas. Both have special teams value.

-- Matt Barrows

November 27, 2012
Hunter injury serious; 49ers mulling course of action, replacements

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***UPDATE*** The 49ers have placed Hunter on injured reserve, ending his season.

Multiple sources say the ankle injury Kendall Hunter suffered Sunday is serious and that the 49ers are likely to shut down the team's second-leading rusher for the season. No move has been made at this point. If that happened, the team would have two openings on its 53-man roster. He and receiver Kyle WIlliams were hurt on the same third-quarter play Sunday; Williams has an ACL tear and is finished for the season.

Later today, the 49ers are likely to add former Eagles receiver Chad Hall to the practice squad. That might mean one of the current practice squad players is being elevated to the 53-man squad. Meanwhile, the 49ers this week must make a decision on rookie running back Jewel Hampton. He is currently on the non-football injury list, but the team has until the end of the week to move him to the active roster.

Hunter has been an excellent change-of-pace backup for Frank Gore for the last two seasons and he's also filled in as a kick returner. His injury means Brandon Jacobs will see more action, and it could mean that second-round pick LaMichael James sees his first snaps of the season. James' style is similar to Hunter's, and James already has shown a nice rapport with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, his roommate during the offseason.

Both have a background in the spread offense, and they ran the read-option play successfully during the preseason.

Hunter is part of the team's sensational 2011 draft class. He has 371 yards and two touchdowns on 72 carries this season.

-- Matt Barrows

November 27, 2012
49ers to sign WR Hall to practice squad

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The 49ers plan to sign former Eagles receiver and return man Chad Hall to the practice squad today. Hall (5-8, 187) potentially provides depth at returner and gives the 49ers another receiver at practice after the team lost Kyle Williams for the season with an ACL tear. Hall appeared in 15 games for the Eagles in 2010-11 and made one start. He must pass a physical before the transaction is complete.

The signing, however, means the 49ers will have an open spot on their 53-man roster after Williams is placed on injured reserve. It's not not known at this point how they will fill that spot, and it could be that someone currently on the practice squad is being elevated to the 53-man roster.

That Hall is going to the practice squad is an indication that Ted Ginn's wrist injury, which limited his action Sunday, is not severe. On the radio Monday, general manager Trent Baalke spoke about Ginn having to have a bigger role at receiver with Williams out. Cornerback Perrish Cox and/or running back LaMichael James figure to provide backup support to Ginn.

There has been no word yet on the severity of Kendall Hunter's ankle injury. The 49ers' No. 2 running back and backup kick returner was hurt on the same third-down play as Williams.

- Matt Barrows

November 26, 2012
Kyle Williams lost for the season; enter James, Jenkins ... Hall?

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Kyle Williams, the 49ers' do-everything wideout, is out for the season with a torn ACL, Williams announced on Twitter Monday. Both Williams and running back Kendall Hunter were hurt on the same play in the third quarter and both had to be taken off the field. Hunter injured his ankle.

"Regret to inform y'all I will be out for the season with a torn ACL,''Williams wrote. "Not how I saw things playing out, but in the end I will be fine. ... This is just another obstacle. I will have to climb back."

Williams was vilified for his two muffed punts in the NFC Championship game in January but had gone a long way toward repairing his reputation in the Bay Area. He handled punt-return duties when Ted Ginn was injured early in the season and stepped in Sunday in New Orleans when Ginn was battling a wrist issue. Williams also was the 49ers' emergency quarterback if the two regular quarterbacks got hurt in a game.

The 49ers are likely to place Williams on injured reserve, which would open up a roster spot. They could elevate someone from the practice squad or they could sign a new player. Philadelphia-based NFL reporter Adam Caplan Tweeted today that the 49ers were interested in signing former Eagles receiver and return man Chad Hall, who also Tweeted, "California, California, here we cooooooome" on Monday.

The 49ers said there have been no moves so far with Hall, who played at the Air Force Academy and was a free-agent pickup for Philadelphia in 2010. Hall (5-8, 187) appeared in 15 games in 2010 and '11 for the Eagles, and was used a lot like the 49ers used Williams - as a receiver, punt returner and kick returner.

The 49ers also have options already on the roster. Neither of the team's top two draft picks, A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James, has played a snap so far this season. James could help fill the void left by Hunter and Williams because he is a running back who has been working on punt returns. James and quarterback Colin Kaepernick, meanwhile, also seemed to develop a nice rapport over the offseason and were particularly dangerous running the read-option together in the preseason.

"There's a good chance that there will be some new active guys on Sunday," Jim Harbaugh said Monday. "Going to send that message to some of our young guys, some of our inactive guys that the opportunity is coming. And you say that every week to them - that you've got to just be prepared, be prepared. ... To both those youngsters credit -- and others who have been working extremely hard for their opportunity -- you feel good and excited that a couple of youngsters will get that opportunity."

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Other punt-return options on the team include cornerback Perrish Cox and Jenkins, who has been taking after-practice repetitions at the position in recent weeks. Hunter, meanwhile, also is the 49ers backup kick returner.

Another factor to consider is Ginn's wrist injury. If it is serious, the 49ers may be looking for someone with experience like Hall. Hall presumably would be familiar with the 49ers' West Coast offense lexicon having played in Philadelphia.

- Matt Barrows

November 25, 2012
Notes: Brooks shines, Moss defends, Williams suffers serious knee injury

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NEW ORLEANS - Ahmad Brooks played wide receiver in high school. And he returned kicks in college. So when the 259-pound outside linebacker saw a Drew Brees pass sailing his way in the second quarter, his instincts took over. Brooks snatched the ball out of the air and then outraced the Saints, including Brees, for the end zone, one of two defensive scores on the afternoon for the 49ers defense.

The score tied the game at 14 heading into halftime, and it negated an interception two plays earlier by Colin Kaepernick, returning the momentum to the 49ers.
"It was like he was shot out of a cannon," Jim Harbaugh said afterward of Brooks' 50-yard score. Said Brooks: "I actually kind of felt kind of slow."

Brooks was part of the group that tormented Brees in the second half. Safety Donte Whitner also scored a touchdown after fellow safety Dashon Goldson upended receiver Marques Colton, who tipped the ball to Whitner.

Brooks was one of three 49ers, along with Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, who finished with 1 ½ sacks. Aldon Smith leads the league with 16 ½ sacks Brooks also had five
tackles, two quarterback hits and one tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

It was one of his best games as a 49er, and he did it in front of his mother, grandmother and a crowd of cousins, with whom Brooks would spend holidays and summers when he was a boy.

November 25, 2012
Harbaugh mum on QB future despite Kaepernick's big game

Colin Kaepernick certainly maintained the hot hand after throwing for 231 yards and accounting for two touchdowns against the Saints Sunday. But Jim Harbaugh remained tight-lipped about who his starting quarterback would be moving forward.

"He acquitted himself very well," Harbaugh said vaguely when asked if Kaepernick still had the hot hand and thus the starting job.

So, is he still the starter, Jim? "We'll address that later."

Harbaugh did say that Alex Smith's Nov. 11 concussion - and his symptoms eight days later - played a big role in going with Kaepernick Sunday against the Saints.

"The injury, and the fact that Alex had symptoms seven days later, eight days later from the concussion and, I've just had some bad experiences. Not going to put a guy back out there who had symptoms like he had," Harbaugh said. "They were serious enough. Now he eventually got cleared. But the thought was to rotate him back into the action but not all the way to the front line. Thought that would give him a chance to get cleared up completely. That was the rationale."

Smith, who was cleared for action Saturday, said he hadn't been told who the starter is moving forward, either. "No idea. Honestly. Don't have any idea," Smith said.

Smith was the No. 2 quarterback on Sunday. As a team captain voted on by his teammates, Smith was among those who handled the pre-game coin toss.

- Matt Barrows

November 25, 2012
Halftime: Brooks' interception makes up for 49ers' mistakes

Colin Kaepernick and Drew Brees traded interceptions at the end of the first half. Brees' turned out to be far more damaging. With 38 seconds, and with the Saints just having picked off Kaepernick, Brees looked for tight end Jimmy Graham to his left. He didn't see outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who is usually rushing from Brees' right, dropping into coverage.

Brooks, who moonlighted as a return man at Virgina, snagged Brees' pass and then outraced Brees for the end zone to knot the game at 14.

Kaepernick, meanwhile, got off to a strong start, leading the 49ers to a 7-0 lead on an impressive, four-play drive that lasted only 2:06. Kaepernick ran into the end zone after he faked an inside handoff to Kendall Hunter and scampered off to his left. Everyone inside the Superdome thought Hunter had the ball - and had been stopped - including some of the Saints.

Kaepernick has shown an excellent knack for extending plays. However, he and the 49ers have faced a number of third-and-long situations in the deafening Louisiana Superdome, and Kaepernick has been let down by two drops - by Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis - and two penalties - by Jonathan Goodwin and Anthony Davis - each of which wiped away first downs.

Kaepernick also made a mistake when, with the 49ers driving for a last-minute score, he didn't see an open receiver on the left sideline and instead went for a deeper target who was double-covered. It was picked off, the first interception of Kaepernick's career.

Kaepenick is 7-12 for 112 yards; Brees is 14-20 for 112 yards. Kaepernick leads all rushers with five carries for 27 yards. He has one more carry than Frank Gore, who has four carries for 12 yards against a Saints defense that entered the game ranked last against the run.

The 49ers appeared to be a bit careless with the ball in the opening half, and they paid for it when Ted Ginn brought in a punt and then started moving before it was secure. The Saints recovered at the San Francisco 10-yard line, and two plays later Brees found Marques Colston in the back of the end zone to put New Orleans up 14-7.

It was the first fumble the sure-handed Ginn has lost since joining the 49ers in 2010. He was replaced by Kyle Williams on the next punt return. Williams also has been handling kick returns.

- Matt Barrows

November 25, 2012
Jacobs, Alex Smith active against Saints; Kaepernick to start

Quarterback Alex Smith and running back Brandon Jacobs are active for the 49ers today as they prepare to face the Saints. The 49ers said that Colin Kaepernick "is expected" to start, meaning that Smith will serve as his backup. Third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien is inactive.

Jacobs, meanwhile, was a free-agent addition this offseason and looked good early in the preseason. However, he suffered a knee injury in the preseason and hasn't played a snap since then. Jacobs only has been active for one other game this year, vs. Seattle. The Saints rank last in the league when it comes to stopping the run.

The other inactives are receiver A.J. Jenkins, running back LaMichael James, safety Trenton Robinson, guard Joe Looney, fullback/defensive end Will Tukuafu and nose tackle Ian Williams.

Running back Darren Sproles (hand) is active for the Saints but starting right tackle Zach Strief is not. Rookie Bryce Harris is expected to make his first-ever start in his place. Look for the Saints to use reserve offensive lineman Eric Olsen as an extra blocker.

- Matt Barrows

November 25, 2012
Alex Smith gets final clearance from concussion

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Alex Smith has been cleared to play following his concussion two weeks ago, a league source said today. That presumably means Smith will serve as the backup to starter Colin Kaepernick against the Saints this afternoon. There's been no word on whether No. 3 quarterback Scott Tolzien will be active for the game.

Smith suffered the concussion on Nov. 11 against the Rams after taking two blows to the head during a 12-play drive. After the drive, Smith told coaches and team doctors that his vision was blurry, and he was pulled from the game.

Smith said the symptoms grew worse that night and included nausea, headaches and blurred vision, but they got better as the week began. The 49ers moved forward thinking that Smith would be the starter against the Bears. On Sunday, however, Smith's symptoms returned , and the 49ers decided that Kaepernick would start against Chicago the next day.

Smith spent the last two weeks practicing in a black, no-contact jersey and was listed as questionable on the team's injury report this week. He passed the final post-concussion test - light contact as he threw the ball - on Friday. When he showed no symptoms on Saturday, Smith was cleared.

- Matt Barrows

November 25, 2012
Source: Kaepernick to start vs. Saints

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Colin Kaepernick will make his second straight at quarterback this afternoon against the Saints, a source with knowledge of the 49ers' decision confirmed this morning.

The 49ers have yet to make any announcement, and may not until 90 minutes before game time (1:25 p.m., PST) when they have to submit lineup changes. However, Kaepernick has been taking the bulk of the practice snaps this week as Alex Smith returned from a concussion.

Smith suffered the concussion on Nov. 11, experiencing headaches, dizziness and nausea that night. By the next day, however, he felt fine, and the 49ers began that week expecting that he would start. It wasn't until Sunday that Smith arrived at team headquarters complaining that some of his symptoms had returned. That night, the team decided to play Kaepernick against the Bears on Monday.

That means that Kaepernick, in throwing for 243 yards and two touchdowns against Chicago, was running a game plan designed for Smith. Today's game plan is designed specifically for him.

Jim Harbaugh indicated this week that Smith's symptoms lasted until Tuesday but that he's been symptom-free since then.

A number of reports last week said -- or at least suggested -- that Kaepernick would start, the first coming from Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter. Harbaugh called those reports "not factual" while also insisting that not announcing the starter gives the 49ers a competitive advantage.

- Matt Barrows

November 23, 2012
Harbaugh: Go ahead, make fun of me. I'm not revealing our QB

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Jim Harbaugh said Friday he sees a competitive advantage in keeping his starting quarterback for Sunday a secret, and even though one of his players let slip the information earlier in the day, the 49ers head coach remained mum on the topic.

"It's just not something we think is an advantage for us to talk about," Harbaugh said this afternoon. "And you may have your opinions on it. It's unorthodox. So be it. You can call me names if you want, or make sport of me. But, that's the way we're going to go about it."

Earlier in the day, safety Donte Whitner said on the Dan Patrick Show that the players were under the impression Colin Kaepernick would start against the Saints. That bolsters a series of reports throughout the week that pointed to Kaepernick making his second straight start. The 49ers list veteran Alex Smith as questionable on the injury report this week.

Harbaugh, however, said he did not tell Smith that the 49ers were tapping Kaepernick to be the starter, as was reported earlier this week.

"Not factual. Not factual. And I know there are probably a lot of reports out there. (49ers director of public relations) Bob (Lange) brought some of them to my attention," Harbaugh said. "Really I didn't see any that were factual that he showed me, including that one. And again, we could set our watch here for another 10, 15 minutes if you want and you could keep asking questions and the answers will still be the same."

Smith, who is recovering from a concussion suffered Nov. 11, passed his so-called "contact test" on Friday, and Harbaugh said that if he remains symptom-free today he will receive his final clearance. Smith's symptoms returned last weekend, but Harbaugh said he's been symptom-free since Tuesday. Smith has practiced this week, but Kaepernick has received most of the snaps

-- Matt Barrows

November 23, 2012
Whitner says Kaepernick to start vs. Saints

Contradicting what 49ers offensive coach Greg Roman said Thursday, safety Donte Whitner said Friday that the 49ers players are under the impression that Colin Kaepernick will start Sunday's game in New Orleans. Roman had said that no decision had been made.

Whitner made his remarks on The Dan Patrick Show this morning. A second Kaepernick start would come as little surprise at this point since Alex Smith has yet to be cleared following his concussion. Roman said the expectation is that clearance would occur today. Still, the 49ers have had to develop a game this week, and Kaepernick was the only sure bet when the work week began.

It doesn't hurt that he also had an outstanding game in his starting debut on Monday. Kaepernick's first NFL game came in New Orleans in the 2011 preseason opener. He and Smith struggled badly against an aggressive Saints defense. Kaepernick was 9-19 for 117 yards in that game and threw two interceptions. His passer rating: 27.6.

-- Matt Barrows

November 23, 2012
49ers bounty furor? The topic's barely made a ripple

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How much are the 49ers talking about the Saints bounty scandal, which hit the NFL like a tidal wave this offseason, as they prepare to fly to New Orleans this afternoon?

There's been barely a peep in Santa Clara due to team's own quarterback drama and the fact that the central villain in the bounty affair, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, won't be on the sideline Sunday. Williams left the Saints in the offseason and then was suspended indefinitely by the NFL.

"I don't think there's any resentment whatsoever," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "What was said in the past is just that -- it's the past. It's irrelevant." Tight end Vernon Davis said that the infamous speech Williams made before the teams met in the playoffs on Jan. 14, in which Williams targeted specific body parts of players like Alex Smith, Frank Fore and Michael Crabtree, never got a lot of attention from the 49ers. "It's talking," Davis said.

The 49ers were more upset with what some considered a breach in exhibition season etiquette last year when, in the first game the 49ers played in the Jim Harbaugh era, Williams blitzed their still-jelling offensive line mercilessly and ended up sacking Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick six times total.

It was the first game Kaepernick, who is likely to start in New Orleans on Sunday, played in the NFL. Kaepernick was 9-19 for 117 yards and threw two interceptions. The 49ers managed only three points that night. "Bad memories," Kaepernick said of his recollection. "It was an all-out fest when we played them last time. Hopefully we'll have a better performance."

November 22, 2012
Roman: Smith could be cleared Friday; no decision on starter

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No decision has been made.

That was the refrain at 49ers headquarters Thursday from coaches and players alike as far as who starts Sunday's game in New Orleans, Alex Smith or his heretofore backup, Colin Kaepernick. "You know, we're hopeful that Alex gets cleared tomorrow, physically," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "We have ultimate confidence in either."

On Wednesday, one national report said that Kaepernick has been named the starter against the Saints while another said that Kaepernick is getting most of the first-team repetitions this week. Roman said the practice repetitions have been divided like they were last week - with the possibility that either Smith or Kaepernick could start.

"Colin's been getting pretty similar to what he got last week," Roman said. "I mean, he's getting some of the reps and Alex is getting some of the reps, and that's how it's divvied up. It's more play-by-play than 'first-team reps, second-team reps.' I really don't know what that means."

Tight end Vernon Davis said Jim Harbaugh gathered input this week from him and the other players this week as far as their thoughts on the quarterback situation. "At the end of the day, it's not our decision," Davis said. "We can have our input, but it's coach's final decision."

November 22, 2012
Smith still in black as Thanksgiving practice gets underway

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The latest in the miniseries, '49ers Quarterback Diaries' is this: Both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick are saying that Jim Harbaugh told them yesterday that Kaepernick will get the first-team practice repetitions as the week begins but that the starter for Sunday's game is not set in stone. Have they been directed to say that to calm the storm that erupted last night when SI's Jim Trotter wrote that Kaepernick is the starter? You have to decide that for yourself.

Meanwhile, Smith was still in a black, no-contact jersey as practice began today. That would indicate hie still has not received final clearance from his Nov. 11 concussion. An ESPN report today says the opposite - he has been cleared. The truth is elusive on Turkey Day.

Harbaugh is not scheduled to speak today, but offensive coordinator Greg Roman is. We'll see what he says.

- Matt Barrows

November 21, 2012
All signs -- and reports -- pointing to Kaepernick

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Colin Kaepernick either is starting Sunday against the Saints or has the edge on starting, depending on which national publication you trust.

A Tweet from SI.com late Wednesday said Jim Harbaugh notified both Kaepernick and Alex Smith that Kaepernick would start in New Orleans. That was followed by an ESPN Tweet that said Harbaugh merely informed the parties that Kaepernick would get the first-team repetitions in practice.

The 49ers would not verify either report, and earlier in the day Harbaugh said he had not made a decision. Kaepernick had a smashing debut Monday against the Bears, passing for 243 yards and two touchdowns and immediately raising questions about whether he might take over the starting job from Smith, who had been in the midst of his finest season until suffering a concussion Nov. 11.

Harbaugh did nothing to quell the notion of a quarterback controversy after the game and when he met with reporters Wednesday at noon. "I don't know if it's in our best interest to make a snap decision on that," he said. "We'll get all the factors weighed out. And we'll talk about it. And we'll come to the best decision for our team."

In fact, Harbaugh even said the Smith-or-Kaepernick debate could be a weekly event depending on who is playing better at the time. "I think it's a unique situation to have two really good players," he said. "Could we (go week to week)? Yes, we could."

November 21, 2012
Report: Kaepernick to face the Saints

Jim Harbaugh didn't tell the media Wednesday who his starting quarterback would be Sunday in New Orleans, but he's apparently perhaps told the quarterbacks. Colin Kaepernick will make his second straight start, according to a Tweet from Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter.

Or has that decision been made? A Tweet from ESPN indicated that Smith spoke on the phone with Trent Dilfer and that Smith said the only decision was that Kaepernick would get the first-team practice repetitions at the beginning of the week. The Tweet: "Alex Smith just told @TDESPN that Harbaugh told him Kaepernick would get 1st team reps but door open to start game based on practice."

Kaepernick had a stellar debut Monday against the Bears, passing for 243 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 32-7 blowout win. Meanwhile, Smith still hasn't been cleared to play in a game following his Nov. 11 concussion.

Smith was listed as a limited participant in today's practice, the fifth straight practice he has had that designation. The 49ers also have a short work week following their Monday game.

- Matt Barrows

November 21, 2012
Roman Harper: Saints unaffected by 49ers QB flap

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Saints safety Roman Harper is one of the few people in America who doesn't have a strong opinion on whether Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick is the starting quarterback for the 49ers. Asked about the difficulty of preparing for either Smith or Kaepernick this week, the Saints safety essentially said, "Eh - it's all the same to us."

"They're two different bodies," Harper acknowledged. "But they're still both very athletic quarterbacks. Alex Smith, I think he ran one in on us last year from 23 yards. They'll run a quarterback sweep, and you don't see that in the NFL too often. They'll do it with both guys."

"They're both right handed," Harper continued. "They've both got a very nice, strong right arm. Alex may know the offense more because he's been here a little bit longer. Both of these guys have had success the last few weeks in this offense, so you don't really prepare differently for either one."

When we last saw Harper, he was lying on his stomach in the south end zone of Candlestick Park having collided with tight end Vernon Davis. Davis was holding the football and the Saints were seconds away from a loss in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Harper said the 49ers' passing game - whether it's Smith or Kaepernick - is even stronger than it was 10 months ago because the team has more and better receivers, including Randy Moss. "He's bought in completely," Harper said. "He's even blocking better this year. And there's different things you can point to that show (Jim) Harbaugh has these guys motivated. You see it on tape, and that's the reason why they're such a good team."

The 49ers also have the league's top rushing offense. The Saints rush defense? Well, er, um ...

"You can say it, bro," Harper said. "We're dead last."

- Matt Barrows

November 21, 2012
Alex Smith: If you can't be happy for your teammate's success, you're playing the wrong sport

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Tim Rattay. Shaun Hill. Troy Smith. Alex Smith has had competition for the starting quarterback job throughout his career and always has managed them well from a camaraderie and team chemistry standpoint. He and Hill were groomsmen in each others' wedding, in fact.

Smith didn't think the current situation between him and Colin Kaepernick should be any different.

"In my opinion, if you can't be happy for your teammate's success, you're playing the wrong sport," Smith said today, his first media appearance in a week. "Go play tennis or golf or something. It's ridiculous, I think. That doesn't belong in team sports, in my opinion."

Two days after Kaepernick's impressive game against the Bears, there has been no change in the quarterback dynamic. Smith still has not been cleared to play in a game, although both he and Jim Harbaugh today said they were optimistic that would happen this week. Smith will practice today in a black, no-contact jersey.

"I feel good. I feel really good," Smith said. "So I'm kind of expecting things to go well."

Smith, of course, said the same thing last week. The 49ers began the week giving him most of the practice snaps. But Smith's symptoms returned at the end of the week and the snaps started going to Kaepernick instead. On Sunday night the decision was made to give Kaepernick the start against Chicago.

"I tried to push it and went out and practice and I just wasn't right and the doctors didn't end up clearing me," Smith said. "I'm not going to get into the symptoms that were going on. Tried to push it earlier in the week and there were still some lingering things."

November 21, 2012
Harbaugh expects Alex Smith to be cleared this week

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Jim Harbaugh said this morning that Alex Smith still has not been cleared to play in a game following his Nov. 11 concussion but that he expects that to happen by the end of the week. "It looks like he will be (cleared) before the week is out," Harbaugh said on the Murph & Mac show on KNBR. "But not as of now. I'm sure he will be."

Smith experienced symptoms from the concussion late last week and never was given the "contact test," which is the final step a player recovering from a concussion must take before being cleared to play. Smith presumably has yet to take that step.

Preparing for the Bears last week, the 49ers began the work week thinking that Smith would start and gave him the most practice snaps. As the week went on, however, those practice snaps swung in Kaepernick's favor. Who gets the most early in the week? Harbaugh probably won't say, but you'd have to think that the fact Smith still is not cleared means Kaepernick gets the bulk of the work.

Meanwhile, get ready for the phrase, "opposite of a controversy." Harbaugh said that twice when host Brian Murphy asked him about the competition between Smith and heretofore backup Colin Kaepernick to start for the 49ers. "It's the opposite of a controversy," Harbaugh said. "We've got two good guys."

Harbaugh also said he was doing fine following his heart procedure last week. He had a follow-up appointment Tuesday. "Think we got that part of it licked," he said. "And beating the Bears Monday night helped that."

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For the first time since 2002, two linebackers from the same team have won the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award in the same season. Patrick Willis did it earlier in the year. Aldon Smith got the honor this week for his 5 1/2-sack effort against Chicago.

Smith is now in first place in the season sack standings, is in position to have the most sacks ever after two seasons and is a contender for the defensive player of the year award for 2012.

Players with the most sacks in their first two seasons since 1982:

1. Reggie White,1985-1986, 31 
2. Derrick Thomas,1989-1990, 30 
3. Aldon Smith, 2011-2012, 29* 
4. Shawne Merriman, 2005-2006, 27 
5. Jevon Kearse, 1999-2000, 26 
6. Von Miller, 2011-2012, 24.5* 
7. Dwight Freeney, 2002-2003, 24 

- Matt Barrows

November 20, 2012
Harbaugh press conference canceled; team signs safety

Looking for more information from the 49ers head coach on the team's budding quarterback dilemma? Well, you're going to have to wait a day.

The team cancelled Harbaugh's 4:30 p.m. press briefing, which was going to be a conference call, because the coach had a follow-up evaluation at Stanford Hospital relating to his cardioversion procedure from last week. Harbaugh had the procedure on Thursday after experiencing an irregular heartbeat the previous night.

A team spokesman said that Harbaugh was fine and that the cancellation was due to a scheduling snafu. The coach is scheduled to hold a noon press conference on Wednesday.

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The 49ers signed a young safety, Eddie Whitley (Virginia Tech), to the practice squad. He fills DT Matthew Masifilo's spot. The team now has three rookie safeties, draft pick Trenton Robinson and practice squadders Michael Thomas and Whitley.

Whitley (6-1, 191 pounds) had an impressive 40 time at his pro day (4.39 seconds) and spent time with the Cowboys this offseason.

- Matt Barrows

November 20, 2012
Deep thoughts: No QB controversy until Smith gets better

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The NFL Game Rewind for the 49ers-Bears game currently is unavailable (annoying), so the film review of the game will have to wait. Until then, here are a few thoughts that have been ratting around in my noggin since last night.

* There's no quarterback controversy in San Francisco until Alex Smith gets better. His post concussion symptoms were all but gone a couple of days after the Nov. 11 injury but returned over the weekend. That's a concern, and until he's entirely symptom-free and cleared by his physicians, Colin Kaepernick is the 49ers starter. That the 49ers are dealing with a shorter-than-usual work work only makes Harbaugh's decision that much easier for the time being, at least.

* Kaepernick can run. Kaepernick has a big arm. We knew that. What was the biggest surprise was Kaepernick's touch and finesse, which was on display all night, especially on over-the-shoulder, feather-soft passes to Vernon Davis and Kyle Williams in the first quarter. That seemed to be the missing element from the second-year quarterback all throughout training camp. When you combine it with his ability to keep plays alive and then take advantage of busted plays with his big arm -- well, now you know why the 49ers liked Kaepernick so much in the 2011 draft.

* The hot-hand theory is vintage Harbaugh. He wants constant competition and now he suddenly has that with Kaepernick playing well and Smith having the best season of his career. What's the downside? A divided locker room? That's certainly possible, but given the makeup of the locker room, and more important, the makeup of the quarterbacks involved, it's hard to see that happening.

* Some astute 49ers observers may be reminded of the 2010 game in London in which Troy Smith orchestrated a win in his first-ever start for the 49ers, which prompted talk of a long-term takeover from Alex Smith.

November 19, 2012
Notes: Aldon Smith sets MNF record with 5 1/2 sacks

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Aldon Smith began Monday's game in third place in the NFL's sack standing. He not only ended it in first place but put some distance between him and the next guy.

The 49ers outside linebacker had 5 1/2 sacks against the Bears and now has 15 on the season, one sack sack more than he had in 2011. The one-game total is the most ever in a Monday Night Football game and ranks second in franchise history. Fred Dean had six on Nov. 13, 1983.

"I think I have a thing for night games," said Smith, who also stood out in a Monday Night Football game against Pittsburgh last year. "I love playing at night, I love the lights."

That total also puts Smith a sack ahead of Denver's Von Miller for the league lead. Smith and Miller became friendly rivals in college - both are Big 12 products --and kept in touch last season when they were vying for the sack title among rookies. Smith edged Miller 14 to 11 ½ last year. Miller, however, was named the league's defensive rookie of the year.

"I'll probably text him as soon as I leave here," Smith said with a smile.

Smith and right defensive end Justin Smith proved to be too much to handle for the Bears tandem of left tackle J'Marcus Webb and guard Chilo Rachal, who spent his first four seasons with the 49ers. Rachal was twice flagged for holding. He also was tackled in the end zone after recovering a fumble, giving the 49ers a safety.

The most painful sack for Campbell was delivered by Ahmad Brooks in the third quarter. The hit dislodged the ball and left Campbell on his hands and knees for several minutes. The former Raider left the game briefly but returned to throw a 13-yard touchdown to Brandon Marshall five plays later

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Jim Harbaugh was asked if there was an unwritten rule that an injured player -- in this case, Alex Smith -- doesn't lose his starting job while he's recovering. "We'll make that determination as we go," Harbaugh said. "But there's no rule."

November 19, 2012
Vernon unleashed: Tight end bows to Kaepernick, compares him to Tom Brady

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SAN FRANCISCO - Following an 11-yard pass from Colin Kaepernick to Vernon Davis in the fourth quarter Monday, the tight end walked up to the quarterback, put his hands together and made a low bow.

Kaepernick, after all, had freed Davis from a four-game imprisonment in which Davis was only a bit player in the 49ers' passing game. "I felt like somebody took the handcuffs off me," said Davis, who finished with six catches for 83 yards and a touchdown in San Francisco's 32-7 blowout of the Bears.

The victory made everyone forget about last week's lackluster tie with the Rams, put the 49ers in second place in the NFC with six games remaining and perhaps gave the region its first compelling quarterback controversy in years.

"We'll see," Jim Harbaugh said when asked whether Kaepernick or Alex Smith would start Sunday in New Orleans. "I usually tend to go with the guy who's got the hot hand. And we've got two quarterbacks that have a hot hand."

Kaepernick was sizzling from the start.

November 19, 2012
Oh Kaeptain, my Kaeptain! 49ers bullying Bears in first half

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Touch passes are supposed to be Colin Kaepernick's kryptonite, but the 49ers quarterback has delivered a few in a first half dominated by him the 49ers, who have moved through the Bears vaunted defense for a 20-0 lead.

The best may have been a 57 yarder Kaepernick lofted just over the head of Bears cornerback Kelvin Hayden into the arms of Kyle Williams to the Chicago 3-yard line. One play later, Kaepernick found Vernon Davis in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown and a quick 10-0 lead.

Davis, a forgotten man in the 49ers' offense the last month, went through a first-half revival with Kapernick throwing him the ball. In addition to his touchdown, the 49ers tight end has catches of 22 and 32 yards and already has more receiving yards - 72 - than in any game since Oct. 7.

Kaepernick, making his first start since guiding the University of Nevada in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at the end of of the 2010 season, is 12-15 for 184 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating is 140. (Jason Campbell's is 16.7). One of Kaepernick's incompletions was a drop by Randy Moss that had so much velocity it dislocated one of the fingers on Moss's left hand. (Moss returned to the game after one play on the sideline).

The 49ers' second touchdown came on a read-option handoff to Kendall Hunter, who scored from 14 yards out. That drive, which began at the San Francisco 4-yard line, was the longest touchdown drive by the 49ers this year and the longest surrendered by the Bears.

Not to be outdone, the 49ers defense has limited the Bears to just 35 of offense, 18 of which came on a throw-away drive at the end of the half. Aldon Smith has gotten past left tackle J'Marcus Webb for three sacks. He now has 12 ½ on the season and is a half sack behind Denver's Von Miller, a buddy of Smith's, for the league lead.

Tarell Brown, meanwhile, intercepted Chicago backup Campbell to set up David Akers' second field goal of the evening. Akers is 2-2.

- Matt Barrows.

November 19, 2012
Jacobs, Alex Smith among the 49ers inactives

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Alex Smith and running back Brandon Jacobs are two of the 49ers on the team's inactive list tonight. Jacobs has been healthy for more than a month but has yet to play a snap. Smith, meanwhile, did not feel well over the weekend and was held out of the game by team physicians.

"I think Alex had a lot to do (with the decision), from what I understand," said former 49ers quarterback Steve Young, who said his ESPN colleague, Trent Dilfer, spoke to Smith today.

The other inactive 49ers are the usual suspects: receiver A.J. Jenkins, running back LaMichael James, guard Joe Looney, safety Trenton Robinson and nose tackle Ian Williams.

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For the Bears, the inactives are: quarterback Jay cutler, receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, CB D.J. Moore, OL Edwin Williams, DT Matt Toeaina, DE Cheta Ozougwu and defensive end Shea McClellin

Young, of course, is very familiar with concussions and how they can affect a quarterback's career. He said the situation is "different now, and for the better."

He said that 20 years ago if a concussed quarterback had a big game coming up -- and on Monday Night Football, no less -- they would have played. "Big games and people on the cusp -- they usually erred on the side of playing," Young said. "I'd be the first one to run out there."

Young also had thoughts on Colin Kaepernick's first-ever start. he said Kaepernick's first rule of thumb should be to make sure he isn't the guy that loses the team the game.

"He's got the legs. Oh, he can move around," Young said. "Especially tonight -- don't throw anything you're not sure of. This is not the night to try anything new."

- Matt Barrows

November 19, 2012
49ers officially rule out Smith from tonight's game

It's official. The 49ers changed their injury report this morning, moving Alex Smith from questionable to out after an examination by 49ers medical director Daniel Garza. Colin Kaepernick will start and he will be backed up by No. 3 quarterback Scott Tolzien and emergency backup Kyle Williams.

Garza, who is affiliated with Stanford Hospital, is considered an authority on concussions, and he is among the physicians on hand at 49ers games who keep an eye out for players who have suffered concussions. Smith was cleared for non-contact work last week by an independent neurologist who also works at Stanford Hospital, but the final clearance was in the hands of the 49ers' team physicians, primarily Garza.

In that way, the NFL's new protocol for handling concussed players was a success. The NFL Players Association has been pressing to have more input from independent experts. In this case, it was the 49ers' own physician who didn't allow Smith to play tonight.

According to a credible source, Smith never was given the so-called "contact test" which is the last step a player must take in being cleared from a concussion. Symptoms from a concussion can arise and reappear at any time, and it may be that Smith experienced symptoms -- a headache, for example -- in the last day. Smith also suffered a concussion last season, although he did not miss any games.

Earlier this month, Garza and 49ers owner Dr. John York, who chairs of the NFL Owners Committee on Health and Safety, attended the Fourth International Consensus Conference on Concussion in Sport in Zurich, Switzerland. An earlier conference in 2008 led to the post-concussion protocol the NFL currently uses.

-- Matt Barrows

November 19, 2012
Report: Smith ruled out, Kaepernick to start vs. the Bears

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Alex Smith never received full clearance from a neurologist after suffering a concussion last Sunday and will miss tonight's game against the Bears, according to a report by ESPN. Backup Colin Kaepernick will make his first ever start in a game in which another backup, Jason Campbell, will start for the Bears because of a concussion suffered by Chicago starter Jay Cutler.

The 49ers have yet to confirm the report that Smith has been ruled out.

Three days after the concussion, Smith said he felt fine and he quickly received clearance from an independent neurologist at Stanford Hospital to return to practice on a non-contact basis. But he practiced throughout the week in a black jersey, a signal that he had not yet received the full clearance. It's not yet known what prevented Smith from gaining the full clearance.

The 49ers were expecting Smith to play since they gave him the lion's share of the practice snaps this week. Coach Jim Harbaugh did say that Kaepernick, who was 11-17 for 117 yards in relief of Smith against the Rams, got more snaps than usual.

"I think there's a lot of different scenarios this week and it's fluid and we've talked through them," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Saturday. "It will change according to how the big picture changes and obviously the quarterback position is a huge piece of that."

Smith hasn't missed a start since separating his non-throwing shoulder Oct. 24, 2010 in a loss in Carolina. He absorbed two big hits to the head during a 12-play drive against the Rams last Sunday and reported blurred vision after the second hit. Smith said the concussion symptoms -- blurred vision, headaches and nausea -- were worse than those from a concussion he suffered last year. Smith played the following week after the Week 2 concussion in 2011.

-- Matt Barrows

November 17, 2012
Alex Smith still needs to pass contact test

Joe Staley today said the last step in his post-concussion protocol this year and last was the "contact test." It's very technical, so you may have to read this a few times. "I just bang away at another guy with my helmet," Staley said. "They see how you feel."

Alex Smith has yet to go through his contact test, although the test for a quarterback likely is different than that for an offensive lineman. In Staley's case, he went up against two fellow offensive linemen, rookies Joe Looney and Al Netter, for perhaps a minute or two. "They can administer it at any time," said Staley, who suffered a concussion in Week 6 against the Giants but played the following Thursday against the Seahawks.

Smith has passed all of the post-concussion steps but the last one, which likely will be administered tomorrow. He's practiced in a no-contact, black jersey the last four days and is listed as questionable on the injury report. That designation means that there's a 50-50 percent chance he'll be available Monday.

However, the way the 49ers have allocated snaps in practice this week suggests the 49ers believe Smith's chances are better than that. "Not quite as much for Alex," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said when asked to compare the quarterback's snap to a normal week. "But I think he's gotten plenty of practice time."

The rest of the 49ers on the injury report this week, including cornerback Chris Culliver, are listed as probable. They are: Culliver (shoulder), RB Anthony Dixon (hamstring), S Dashon Goldson (ribs), LB Tavares Gooden (elbow, quadricep), C Jonathan Goodwin (ankle), RB Frank Gore (ribs, wrist), G Mike Iupati (quadricep), WR Mario Manningham (shoulder), DT Will Tukuafu (wrist), LB Patrick Willis (shoulder)

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Out: QB Jay Cutler (concussion), DE Shea McClellin (concussion), DT Matt Toeaina (calf)

Probable: WR Alshon Jeffery (hand), DT Henry Melton (back)

-- Matt Barrows

November 17, 2012
Alex Smith goes through fourth straight practice in no-contact jersey

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For the fourth straight day, Alex Smith is practicing in a black jersey, which suggests that he's playing on Monday but doesn't quite clinch it. Unlike the Bears, who declared concussed starter Jay Cutler out for Monday's game, the 49ers haven't said for sure whether Smith will play.

Jim Harbaugh on Friday said that Smith continues to show progress but stopped short of saying that Smith would start against the Bears. "Again, it's in the doctors' hands and they'll evaluate him as the week goes," Harbaugh said. "There seems to be some progress."

Harbaugh said that backup Colin Kaepernick was getting "a little bit more work than normal" in case Smith isn't ready.

Jason Campbell will start for the Bears. Campbell was a starting quarterback for two years with the Raiders, and he is very familiar to 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers, who played with Campbell both at Auburn and with the Redskins where they both were first-round draft picks.

Rogers said the 49ers aren't approaching the game any differently with Cutler on the sideline. "I think both of them have strong arms, the ability to throw any throw," he said. "We know what Cutler can do. I played with Jason for a while. I know what he can do. We don't look at them as being any different - they both can throw the ball, they both can scramble. As a defense, it's easy to prepare for those guys when we're looking at them the same way."

-- Matt Barrows

November 16, 2012
McDonald fined $21K, Masifilo heads to Tampa

Ray McDonald received a hefty fine from the NFL this week -- $21,000 for helmet-to-helmet contact with Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. McDonald was penalized for roughing the passer on the play and could have been penalized for the same thing three plays later.

Neither Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar nor 49ers safety Dashon Goldson received fines. Dunbar struck Alex Smith in the shoulder and the back of the helmet on a quarterback run. Smith, however, didn't slide on the play, which made the hit legal. Goldson was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for taking off his helmet on the field.

Meanwhile, the 49ers are in need of a new practice-squad player after rookie defensive tackle Matthew Masifilo was signed by the Buccaneers. Masifilo will join former Stanford teammate Chris Owusu in Tampa. Earlier this year, receiver Nathan Palmer was signed off the 49ers practice squad by the Colts. Masifilo revealed the move on his Twitter account.

-- Matt Barrows

November 16, 2012
Harbaugh: Recent heart episode won't change how I coach

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Jim Harbaugh addressed the media for the first time since his Thursday procedure to address an irregular heartbeat and made it very clear the episode would not change his approach to his job.

"No limits," Harbaugh said. "Going about everything as normal."

To underscore that notion, Harbaugh said he stopped by practice following his late-morning cardioversion procedure at Stanford Hospital. "He just couldn't leave us the whole day," cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "He just had to come back here and show us he was healthy."

Fullback Bruce Miller said Harbaugh acted as if nothing had happened. "He'd never show a weakness to us, so he definitely downplayed it."

Harbaugh revealed that he had had a more severe episode with an irregular heartbeat 13 years ago when he was a quarterback with the Chargers. Harbaugh said he had an ablation -- using a catheter to scar or destroy the tissue that triggers an abnormal heart rhythm -- at that point to deal with the issue. He said that procedure occurred in August and that he may have missed a couple of practices.

"The atrial flutter is something I've had for a while, probably pretty close to all my life," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh said doctors gave him medication and suggestions about diet -- cutting back on caffeine, for example. But he said they didn't say anything about reducing stress, which is high among coaches in the NFL.

Harbaugh said he was eager to get back to practice Thursday and said he watched about an hour of the session.

"That's not a good feeling," Harbaugh said of missing a day. "I've had that dream before, many times, when you're supposed to be taking a test or the team's out there practicing and you're not out there. So -- glad to be out here."

-- Matt Barrows

November 16, 2012
Harbaugh returns to work

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The boss is back.

As expected, Jim Harbaugh returned to 4949 Centennial Drive today after having a non-surgical procedure to address an irregular heartbeat on Thursday. Harbaugh will talk to the media at noon today.

The reigning coach of the year experienced an elevated heartbeat Wednesday night and was examined by a doctor at Stanford Hospital where he also had the procedure -- believed to be cardioversion -- on Thursday.

Harbaugh briefly stopped by the 49ers facility on Thursday afternoon but did not do any coaching.

-- Matt Barrows

November 15, 2012
Prescription for Harbaugh: Less stress

Dr. William Bommer, a UC Davis professor and the President of the American College of Cardiology for California, said it sounded as if 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh might have experienced atrial fibrillation, the most common cardiac arrhythmia and one that wouldn't have been picked up during the annual physical examinations Harbaugh has had since joining the 49ers.

Bommer said that one of the contributing factors for atrial fibrillation is stress. "I can imagine if you're under pressure to win all the time, that could be a little stressful," he said.

A common procedure to treat atrial fibrillation, Bommer said, is elective cardioversion, during which the patient is sedated and an electric impulse is used to put the heart back into a regular rhythm. "It works in well over 90 percent of the cases," Bommer said. "Literally within four hours, the patient can go home."

Bommer said that in general doctors will tell patients who have had cardioversion to get plenty of sleep, to cut down on caffeine and alcohol and to work on reducing stress in their lives. How Harbaugh, who is among the most animated coaches on game days (and sometimes even in press conferences), handles that last recommendation should be interesting.

-- Matt Barrows

November 15, 2012
Smith goes through second practice in no-contact black jersey

Alex Smith went through his second straight practice wearing a black, no-contact jersey, an indication that he hasn't yet been fully cleared after his Sunday concussion.

As was the case on Wednesday, Smith began practice -- the first 20 minutes or so are open to reporters -- like he has every other session. He took snaps alongside backup Colin Kaepernick, handing the ball to Frank Gore and the team's other running backs and throwing passes to the wideouts.

The last stage following a concussion is to be cleared for a contact practice. Smith noted the absurdness of that given that quarterbacks don't receive any contact in practice even when fully healthy.

"Had the black jersey on me, which is a little redundant, seeing as how we don't get hit in practice," Smith said on Wednesday. He was not available to the media today.

The 49ers listed both Smith and cornerback Chris Culliver (shoulder) as limited participants in practice on today's injury report. EVeryone else listed practiced in full. They are:

RB Anthony Dixon (hamstring), S Dashon Goldson (ribs), LB Tavares Gooden (elbow, quadricep), C Jonathan Goodwin (ankle), RB Frank Gore (ribs, wrist), G Mike Iupati (quadricep), WR Mario Manningham (shoulder), DT Will Tukuafu (wrist), LB Patrick Willis (shoulder).

Dixon, Goldson, Gooden's quadriceps, Gore's ribs and Iupati are new additions from last week's report.

For the Bears, meanwhile, quarterback Jay Cutler (concussion) did not practice.

-- Matt Barrows

November 15, 2012
Harbaugh in hospital with irregular heartbeat; expected back tomorrow

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Jim Harbaugh will have what the 49ers are calling a "minor procedure" today to address an irregular heartbeat that was detected Wednesday night, the team announced today.

Harbaugh, 48, began feeling ill Wednesday evening and went to Stanford Hospital, which is near his home and which is affiliated with the 49ers. It's not known what the procedure will entail, but a team spokesman said Harbaugh is expected back tomorrow. Special teams coach and assistant head coach Brad Seely is acting as head coach today.

Patrick Willis said that Harbaugh sat behind him yesterday during a team meeting and that he couldn't detect anything amiss with his head coach. "We didn't even know he was having that done until just a second ago," Willis said.

"Coach Harbaugh, like he always tells us, he's tougher than a two-dollar steak," Willis said. "We know he's going to be alright. We've got a bunch of great coaches here that are going to keep everything on track, and we're going to practice today as if he was here."

Here's the statement from the 49ers: "Coach Harbaugh is not at the facility today under doctor's orders. He is having a minor procedure done at Stanford Hospital today for an irregular heartbeat. We anticipate that he will be back at the facility tomorrow, but do not have any further information to share at this time. Assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Brad Seely will be overseeing today's practice and meetings. When more information regarding coach Harbaugh is available we will pass that along."

Harbaugh's father, Jack, said he didn't know anything beyond what's been released by the team.

-- Matt Barrows

November 15, 2012
Top ILB duo? Check the hardware, Lance Briggs says

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For almost a decade, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs were considered the top inside linebacker tandem in the NFL. Then last season, a couple of newcomers named Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman came along and snatched that title away.

How does Briggs feel about having to hear and read that the 49ers duo are the top dogs at the position? Briggs, via conference call, started out slowly, but with a couple of defensive mates (including defensive back Charles Tillman) next to him, he eventually built to a crescendo.

"How do I feel about it? Doesn't change the way I play, doesn't change the way we play over here," said Briggs (Elk Grove High). "That's the ranking. And the thing about a ranking is, the ranking doesn't mean anything if you don't get to that Super Bowl. That's the goal, going to the Super Bowl."

"Those are great 'backers," he continued. "I've watched them on film. Patrick -- I've been to the Pro Bowl with him. NaVorro Bowman -- he's on his way. But the way I look at it, over here we've got 15 Pro Bowls between the two of us and probably about eight All-Pros. We'll let that decide for itself." (long whistle in background)

Indeed, the Bears duo has been around for a decade and thus has accumulated more hardware. This season, the 49ers' duo has the edge in tackles -- 153 to 101. But Briggs and Urlacher have forced more turnovers and made big plays of of them, which has been indicative of the Chicago defense this year.

Briggs has forced two fumbles and intercepted two passes, both of which he returned for touchdowns. Urlacher has one interception for a touchdown to go along with 1 forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

The 49ers' takeaways, which came in a torrent last year, have been reduced to a trickle this year. Both Willis and Bowman have one interception. Willis also has forced a fumble and recovered a fumble. Bowman has no forced fumbles or recoveries.

Does this mean Briggs and Urlacher get their title back?

-- Matt Barrows

November 14, 2012
Alex Smith: 2011 concussion not nearly as severe as current one

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Alex Smith today said he tried to "blink off" the vision problems that started to affect him in the second quarter Sunday. But the 49ers quarterback said the issues only got worse, and he soon realized he'd be of no value to his team.

"It's tough to play quarterback without your eyes," Smith said following a non-contact practice Wednesday. "... All of a sudden, there was a bunch of things out there that I couldn't make out. I just felt like I couldn't help the team out there."

Smith said the symptoms he suffered this year, especially blurry vision, were similar in nature to what he experienced following a Week 2 game against the Cowboys last year when he also was diagnosed with a concussion. Smith played in the following game. But this week's episode has been far more severe, Smith said. "Last year was not even close to this," he said.

Still, Smith seems to be on track to play Monday against the Bears. He's passed all of the post-concussion parameters set forth by the league, including being cleared by a Stanford Hospital neurologist. Now the last hurdle is being cleared for a full-contact practice session.

"Contact is kind of like the final straw," Smith said. "But I was able to go out there today, which was a little redundant seeing as how we don't get hit in practice. Yeah, felt good out there."

November 14, 2012
Back in black: Alex Smith cleared for non-contact work

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Alex Smith was in a black jersey for the start of 49ers practice this afternoon, an indication that he has been cleared by an independent neurologist and has already passed the workout stage of the NFL's post-concussion protocol. Both are good signs that he will play in Monday night's game against the Bears, who look to be without their own starting quarterback, Jay Cutler, who also had a concussion Sunday.

Smith still must be cleared for a full practice, which could happen as early as Thursday. He suffered his concussion during a 12-play drive Sunday vs. St. Louis that spanned the first and second quarters. He received at least two blows to the head on the drive.

The first occurred when he was hit from behind by Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar. The second happened six plays later when he dove head first into a pile of players on fourth and one. Smith remained in the game and threw a touchdown pass five plays later. But he began experiencing blurred vision and was removed when he notified coaches.

Smith also suffered nausea and headaches that night, although the symptoms subsided Monday morning. He saw the neurologist Monday afternoon. That doctor compared results from baseline cognitive tests Smith took over the offseason with current results before clearing the 49ers quarterback. Smith also suffered a concussion in Week 2 last year that was not diagnosed until after the game. He played the following week.

In other injury news, running back Frank Gore, guard Mike Iupati and linebacker Aldon Smith -- all of whom were nicked in the Rams game -- were on hand for the start of practice.

-- Matt Barrows

November 14, 2012
49ers' brick-wall defense? It's crumbled a bit this season

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A year ago, the 49ers were a brick wall for opposing running backs. Not only was there nowhere to run, a large number of ball carriers -- Felix Jones, Montario Hardesty, Jahvid Best, Pierre Thomas, to name a few -- had to be helped off the field and never returned.

This year? The wall has crumbled a bit. Running backs in three of the last four games have broken 100 yards, a sacred barrier a year ago that only one tailback, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, achieved. Lynch's 100-yard game also had an asterisk. He did it in a game that linebacker Patrick Willis missed with a hamstring injury.

A year ago, teams averaged 77.3 yards a game on the ground against San Francisco. That was easily the best yards-against average in the league. This year, it's 95.3 yards a game, which is still good for seventh overall, but nearly 20 yards a game more than last year. The 49ers already have allowed three rushing touchdowns, the same number they gave up in 18 contests last year.

In 2011, opponents gave up on running against the 49ers. That wasn't the case Sunday. Steven Jackson carried the ball 29 times alone as the Rams held the ball nearly seven minutes more than the 49ers. The last time Jackson has carried the ball more than 29 times: Dec. 28, 2008.

He finished with 101 yards Sunday, so his average was still rather pedestrian -- 3.5 yards a carry. Still, one of the factors in his success was that his offensive linemen were constantly breaking through to the second level of the 49ers defense where they could take on linebackers Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Bowman finished with a game-high 13 stops, but many were several yards downfield. He had one tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

Meanwhile, the 49ers on Monday face a Chicago team that ranks ninth overall in rushing and likely will be without starting quarterback Jay Cutler.

-- Matt Barrows

November 13, 2012
49ers Q&A: What happens to Smith if Kaepernick excels?

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@KylePayne28: Would the Niners be comfortable shopping Alex Smith around this offseason if they feel good about Kaep?

ANSW: Remember, the key date here is April 1. If Smith still is on the roster on April 1st, the 49ers will owe him $7.5 million. Release him before April 1 and they save $7.5 million. As I wrote last month, that's not an insignificant amount, but I don't think it's big enough to force the 49ers' hand when it comes to their quarterback future. That is, the combined salary of Smith and Kaepernick still is waaaaaay below what most teams are paying their quarterbacks and Smith is in the midst of his best season.

Having said that, Smith's concussion raises the stakes slightly. If he is out for an extended period, that will give Kaepernick plenty of opportunity to show off his skills, and if he is an overwhelming success, it will create a quarterback controversy and the 49ers' April 1 decision becomes more difficult. But A.) I don't think Smith will be out for long and B.) I think Kaepernick's outings if Smith were out for a while would be up and down -- like they would be for any young quarterback. Which is all a long way of saying, I think Smith and Kaepernick will be on the same team again next year.

@imajackhammer: Three 100 yrd rushers in 4 weeks. Is Isaac Sopoaga struggling as much as it seems? Is he hurt/tired/old? Will we see more RJF?

ANSW: We've already been seeing more of Ricky Jean Francois -- and earlier in games -- than last season. None of the 49ers defenders had a good first quarter Sunday, Sopoaga especially. He was being blocked one-on-one by an H-back, a battle he theoretically should win handily. He and his teammates improved as the game went on, but they put themselves in a 14-0 hole. Here's the catch: Both he and RJF are scheduled to be free agents in the offseason. RJF is five years younger and it's clear -- to me, at least -- that he is the one they want to keep around. But will he be the more desirable player on the free-agent market? If so, then the 49ers might have to hang onto Sopoaga or hope that Ian Williams is ready to step in.

@mfridb: which J will touch the ball first in a game? Jenkins? Jacobs? Or James?

November 13, 2012
Live chat: Analyzing the 49ers, 10:45 a.m.

Matt Barrows will host a live chat at 10:45 a.m. today to discuss with you what the 49ers must do to get back on track after the 24-24 tie they had with the Rams on Sunday, along with the challenges the team faces.

November 12, 2012
Harbaugh: 49ers have "bumps, bruises" after 75-minute game

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The Rams and the 49ers played the NFL's first, five-period game since 2008, and as you might expect the contest had some casualties.

Both Mike Iupati and Aldon Smith left the game briefly -- Iupati for one play -- but returned to the contest. Matt Maiocco reported that Frank Gore also received X-rays afterward and was walking around gingerly after a very physical effort. Gore had 21 carries, the most he's had this season and his highest total since the 49ers' Christmas Eve game in Seattle last year.

Still, Jim Harbaugh said only Alex Smith's concussion seemed serious. "Some things, some bumps and bruises that the guys are working through," Harbaugh said. "But at this point, I don't think it's anything that's serious."

The only player who didn't step on the field Sunday was Rams backup quarterback Kellen Clemens.

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What's wrong with David Akers? After starting the season 6-6 on field goals, Akers is 10-16 in the seven games since. His 33-yard field goal tied the game and sent it to overtime. But he missed a 41-yarder wide left that would have won the game for San Francisco.

Akers set an NFL record for attempts and field goals made (44) last year and was a big part of the team's winning formula. Harbaugh was asked if there were anything wrong with the 14-year kicker's confidence.

"No, not that I'm aware of," Harbaugh said. "... I've not pin-pointed any reason there. I don't have indications that he's not confident."

-- Matt Barrows

November 12, 2012
Smith or Kaepernick on Monday? It's in a neurologist's hands now

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Alex Smith has an appointment with a neurologist today, and that doctor will determine whether Smith or backup Colin Kaepernick plays Monday against the Bears.

That neurologist -- who is independent from the team -- will compare data from baseline neurological exams Smith took in the offseason with the tests taken this week. The neurologist must clear Smith before he can resume non-football activities. From there, he'll take part in non-contact drills and then rejoin full practice.

Jim Harbaugh would not offer a deadline by which Smith would have to be cleared if he is to play against the Bears. Harbaugh reported that Smith had a "good night's sleep last night and the symptoms were positive today."

Harbaugh said he didn't know whether the big hit Smith absorbed by Jo-Lonn Dunbar contributed to Smith's issues Sunday, but that team doctors checked Smith after that play and that he was cleared to continue to play.

Harbaugh said Smith later reported that his vision became blurred after the fourth-and-one sneak later in the same drive. Smith went on to play six more snaps after that sneak and looked sharp in throwing two completions to Michael Crabtree.

When he went to the sideline, he told Harbaugh he had blurred vision. Shortly thereafter Smith was pulled from the game. Would he have wanted Smith to have removed himself from the game upon experiencing the symptoms, Harbaugh was asked?

November 12, 2012
Film review: Assessing Kaepernick; 49ers should feel lucky to have tied

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Jim Harbaugh on Sunday evening said that it seemed as if Alex Smith suffered his concussion on the quarterback sneak on fourth and one in the second quarter. In fact, Smith suffered three big hits on that series, starting with a blow to the back of his shoulder and helmet by linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar that appeared to stagger Smith briefly.

Smith also was sacked by Michael Brockers three plays later, and he seemed to come out of the pile a bit woozily after the sneak before collecting himself. It could be that that cumulative effect of those plays made his vision blurry on the sideline, which he reported to team doctors and which led to him being ruled out of the game.

That being said, Smith did not seem fuzzy on the play after the sneak. On the next play, he drops back quickly, sets his feet and fires a 19-yard pass over the middle to Michael Crabtree, Smith's longest completion of the game. Four plays after that, he hit Crabtree for the touchdown. Smith's teammates said they did not notice anything different about Smith on that drive, and some said they initially didn't know why he had been removed from the game. That is, there was nothing obvious that suggested Smith was concussed.

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Would the 49ers have won, lost or tied if Smith remained in the game? Impossible to say. But it's hard to blame the tie on backup Colin Kaepernick, who shook off a wobbly start to lead three scoring drives in the second half (Ok, on one of them he merely handed the ball to Frank Gore).

Kaepernick may not have Smith's mastery of the offense or Smith's care with the football (He was saved by Bruce Miller on what would have been a crippling fumble.) But he's also willing and able to make throws Smith can't, such a 20-yarder to Mario Manningham in the fourth quarter. Kaepernick threw the ball from the right hash at the San Francisco 20-yard line and it arrived in Manningham's hands at the 40-yard line along the left sideline. That's a long, and very difficult throw to make and it's one that Smith never would attempt.

And, of course, Kaepernick can run. He gained 66 yards on the ground Sunday. On his touchdown run, he outraces James Laurinaitis, Craig Dahl and Cortland Finnegan to the pilon, all of whom initially have an angle on him. What other quarterback in this league can make that play? Michael Vick, Cam Newton?

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One Kaepernick mistake that could have proven costly... his throw to Kyle Williams at the end of regulation. The Rams knew that with 11 seconds and no timeouts, the 49ers' only option was an all-or-nothing shot in the end zone, and most of their defense was camped out there. Kaepernick's pass, however, hit Williams five yards short of the end zone with three Rams ready to pounce. If Williams makes that catch, he gets tackled and the Rams win the game. Luckily for the 49ers, the pass seems to surprise him and it falls incomplete, stopping the clock for David Akers' game-tying field goal.

November 11, 2012
Rams punter says 49ers were "unsound," takes advantage

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Evidence the Rams were more intent, even desperate, to win on Sunday: They attempted two fake punts, one of them from within their own end zone. Both were successful, and the second fake -- a 19-yard pass to tight end Lance Kendricks -- extended a 14-play touchdown drive that allowed the Rams to regain the lead at the end of regulation.

The first fake came at the end of the first half as the 49ers seemingly forced the Rams to punt from deep inside their own territory with 49 seconds remaining. When the 49ers sent Chris Culliver from the corner to try to block Johnny Hekker's punt, however, Hekker fired a pass to the player who was opposite Culliver and the Rams picked up a first down.

Said Hekker: "It wasn't even a fake called from the sideline. It was something San Francisco did that was unsound. They left our gunner wide open and didn't bring anyone out to cover him. It's something we were ready and prepared for."

"That takes a lot of gumption to do it," said Jim Harbaugh of executing fake when the punter is inside his own end zone. "And they did it, backed up as far as they were. And they executed it very well."

Harbaugh said the 49ers were aware that Hekker, a rookie, was a quarterback in high school and that he ran the scout team at Oregon State. Hekker also threw a two-yard touchdown earlier this year on a fake field goal, the Rams' only touchdown in a game against Seattle.

November 11, 2012
Who tied in here? 49ers locker room somber after 24-24 split

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Safety Dashon Goldson was wondering why everyone was walking off the field with the score still tied. Vernon Davis said it was as if no game had been played. Michael Crabtree said it had the feel of a scrimmage.

The 49ers on Sunday played five full quarters, became elated and deflated when both David Akers and the Rams field-goal kicker missed in overtime and then settled for a 24-24 tie -- San Francisco's first since 1986 -- that felt more like a loss inside a somber 49ers locker room.

Center Jonathan Goodwin described the game as "weird." For one the 49ers don't often fall behind quickly, but they found themselves down two touchdowns in the first quarter to a Rams team that entered as a heavy underdog but played with more urgency and fire at the start.

It began on the Rams first offensive possession when rookie receiver Brian Quick knocked cornerback Chris Culliver to the ground and then was alone for a 36-yard touchdown, the first scoring play of 20 yards or more against the 49ers this season. On the next St. Louis drive, running back Daryl Richardson broke off a 32-yard run, which was augmented by a 15-yard face-mask penalty. Three plays later Steven Jackson burst into the end zone from seven yards out.

The Rams, losers of three straight entering the game, finished with 458 yards of offense, while hard-charging Jackson, who required a host of 49ers to bring him to the ground all afternoon, finished with 101 yards to go along with his touchdown.

November 11, 2012
Halftime: 49ers get momentum back; lose starting quarterback

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Sleep walking at the start of the game, the 49ers finally woke up with a long touchdown drive midway through the second quarter but lost starting quarterback Alex Smith for the game.

The 12-play drive included a third-and-15 scenario in San Francisco territory, and quarterback Smith did what he's been doing all season -- he looked for Michael Crabtree on a short pass over the middle. Crabtree also did what he's been doing all season -- he took a short pass and then fought for extra yardage near the first-down marker.

He didn't make it, but he got the ball close enough that Smith's dive on fourth down got the 49ers a first down -- by perhaps an inch.

Smith again connected with Crabtree over the middle to get the ball deep into Rams territory. And then on 3rd and 7 from the St. Louis 14-yard line, he looked for Crabtree again. The receiver caught the ball inside the 10, juked a couple of Rams and then waltzed into the end zone for his fourth touchdown of the season and his third in the last two games.

Smith, however, left the game shortly thereafter with a concussion that likely was suffered at the end of the first quarter when he was hit by a Rams linebacker while struggling for extra yardage. Colin Kaepernick took over at that point.

The touchdown drive, however, seemed to swing the momentum away from St. Louis, which had the two biggest plays of the game in the opening quarter -- a 36-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Brian Quick and a 32-yard run by Daryl Richardson. That set up a seven-yard touchdown run by Steven Jackson and the Rams took a 14-0 lead against the listless 49ers.

The 49ers had been dominated in the trenches, both on offense and defense, before their touchdown drive.

-- Matt Barrows

November 11, 2012
Alex Smith taken out of game with concussion

Quarterback Alex Smith left the game at the end of the first half with a concussion and will not return. Smith took several big hits during an opening half in which the 49ers were outplayed -- and out-hit -- by the Rams, including a big shot from behind linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar.

That hit occurred at the end of the first quarter. Smith played another series in which he threw a touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree before being removed from the game.

Smith suffered a concussion in Week 2 last year but it was not diagnosed until after the game. He did not miss any playing time. Smith was 7-8 for 72 yards before leaving.

Second-year player Colin Kaepernick entered in Smith's place and promises to have the most extensive outing of his career. Smith last missed a game due to injury in 2010 after separating his shoulder against Carolina.

Smith will have to pass a battery of tests and be cleared by an independent neurologist before being cleared for practice. The good news for the 49ers: They have a longer-than-normal work week due to their upcoming game with the Bears on Monday Night Football.

-- Matt Barrows

November 11, 2012
Jacobs inactive for 49ers; Rams sit two prominent rookies for rules violations

Brandon Jacobs is a healthy scratch -- again -- as the 49ers prepare to face the Rams. Jacobs joins fellow running back LaMiachael James in street clothes today. Meanwhile, the Rams are sitting two stand-out rookies, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and receiver Chris Givens, after they violated team rules. Both are starters, and Jenkins' absence means that St. Louis goes into the game with just three cornerbacks. Givens has been the team's best deep threat through the first half of the season.

Neither Jacobs nor James is active because the 49ers have been doing so well with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter as the primary rushers -- the 49ers are No. 1 in the league and rushing -- and because Anthony Dixon is a core special teams player.

The other inactive 49ers are: quarterback Scott Tolzien, receiver A.J. Jenkins, safety Trenton Robinson, guard Joe Looney and nose tackle Ian Williams.

Meanwhile, receiver Danny Amendola is active and will start for the Rams. St. Louis' inactives also include: quarterback Austin Davis, safety Darian Stewart, OL Chris Williams and defensive end Eugene Sims.

Bradley Fletcher will start at cornerback for Jenkins; Amendola is in for Givens.

-- Matt Barrows

November 9, 2012
The 49ers' injury report: Everybody probable

As expected, all nine players who appeared on the 49ers' injury report this week are listed as probable. They are: WR Michael Crabtree (illness), LB Tavares Gooden (elbow), RB Frank Gore (hand), G Daniel Kilgore (concussion), P Andy Lee (hand), WR Mario Manningham (shoulder), QB Alex Smith (right finger), DT Will Tukuafu (wrist), LB Patrick Willis (shoulder).

Each practiced in full Wednesday-Friday.

The Rams' report is more nuanced. Most notable is that starters Rodger Saffold and Danny Amendola practiced throughout the week and are listed as questionable.

Probable: OT Barry Richardson (head), LB Justin Cole (illness), DT Kendall Langford (non-football).

Questionable: OT Saffold (knee), WR Amendola (collarbone), OT Wayne Hunter (back), LB Mario Haggan (thigh), DT Kellen Heard (foot).

Doubtful: S Darian Stewart (knee), DE Eugene Sims (knee).

-- Matt Barrows

November 9, 2012
Fangio defense to face Bradford -- and probably Amendola - for first time

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Carlos Rogers has spent the last year and a half trying to keep pace with water bug-quick slot receivers and there's another one -- maybe? probably? -- coming into town on Sunday.

Danny Amendola hasn't played since suffering a collarbone injury Oct. 4, and his return this weekend would be a critical boost to the Rams offense. He was back at practice on a limited basis this week and likely will be listed as questionable on St. Louis' injury report. ***UPDATE Amendola indeed is listed as questionable. Rams beatwriter Jim Thomas writes that both he and tackle Rodger Saffold are expected to play Sunday.***

The three games Amendola has missed all have been Rams losses. That's probably not a coincidence. He still leads the team in catches (32), receiving yards (395) and is tied for the team lead in touchdowns (two) despite accumulating no stats in the last three games.

"In a series, if they have to drive 14 (plays), they're going to throw him the ball at least seven times on the drive," Rogers said. "He's their main target. They have a lot of deep threats, fast guys, but any time he's on the field, any time he's moving, we think they're trying to give him the ball."

Rogers drew a comparison between Amendola and the Giants' Victor Cruz, who has given Rogers and the 49ers defense fits in recent years. Said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio of the comparison: "I think Carlos is just kind of referring to, this guy's a damn good slot. And I think that's what he meant generally. And this guy is. He's one of the top slots in the league."

November 8, 2012
49ers list season-high nine players on injury list. What's going on?

The 49ers have a season-high nine players listed on their injury report today despite playing only one game in the last 21 days. Bad luck? Attrition? Overly physical practices?

My guess is that the team is being extra cautious after watching a handful of other squads -- including brother John's Ravens -- get fined $20,000 for violating the league's procedures for reporting injury information. Safety Ed Reed last month told a local radio station that he's been playing with a torn labrum. The problem: Baltimore hadn't listed Reed on their injury reports. The Rams, Redskins and Bills also have been fined for the same infraction.

All of the 49ers on the injury report this week practiced in full, an indication that none is too serious. Two new ones -- Michael Crabtree and Patrick Willis -- were added today.

49ers
full participation
WR Michael Crabtree (illness), LB Tavares Gooden (elbow), RB Frank Gore (hand), G Daniel Kilgore (concussion), P Andy Lee (hand), WR Mario Manningham (shoulder), QB Alex Smith (right finger), DT Will Tukuafu (wrist), LB Patrick Willis (shoulder)

-- Matt Barrows

November 8, 2012
Pending free agent Goldson gets boost from defensive coordinator

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Here's a statement that Dashon Goldson -- and his agent -- will be happy to read. Today Vic Fangio was asked about Goldson, specifically in relation to the player who is arguable the best safety in the league, Baltimore's Ed Reed.

Fangio is in a good position to make the comparison. He either was a special assistant or an assistant coach in Baltimore from 2006 to 2009 before coaching Goldson the last two seasons. Fangio first qualified his response by saying the two were different-styled safeties.

"Ed Reed's a little different guy the way he's always played safety," he said. "Ed's got tremendous instincts and a great feel for the ball, tremendous ball skills. And Ed's one of the best safeties in this era the last 10, 15 years for sure. But Dashon, I think, is right up there with him."

Both players made the Pro Bowl last season, Goldson's first and Reed's eighth. And both are looking for new contracts. Reed is in the final year of his deal. Goldson, meanwhile, got the franchise tag last year ($6.2 million), meaning he is scheduled for free agency again in March. The 49ers could franchise Goldson again, but it would have to be at 120 percent of this year's amount.

Goldson tested free agency in 2011 and found no takers, at least not for the amount he was seeking. He switched agents the following offseason and again couldn't work out a long-term deal with the 49ers.

He joined the 49ers midway through training camp last year, and he didn't start his first game until Week 3. Fangio today said the safety's been making incremental progress since. It's hard to single out anyone from the defense, but Goldson -- who plays the pass and the run equally well -- has shined on a group that ranks No. 2 against the pass and No. 5 against the run.

"I don't know if I'd say significant," Fangio said when asked about Goldson's progress. "But he's made little strides in all areas. And like I said before, little strides in a lot of areas equals a big difference."

******************
Frank Gore was on yesterday's injury report, not because of the bruised ribs suffered against Seattle but because of a hand injury. Gore said he took a helmet to the hand against the Cardinals. He does not have a wrap on the hand and, along with every other 49er, practiced in full Wednesday.

-- Matt Barrows

November 7, 2012
Buckeye bash: Boone, Laurinaitis to renew friendly (we think) rivalry

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You know two guys have a strong friendship when one doesn't hesitate to throw a string of colorful -- and public -- insults at the other. So it was today with Rams inside linebacker James Laurinaitis who volunteered that he was roommates with 49ers guard Alex Boone at Ohio State.

What was Boone like, James?

"Dirty, loud. The guy could snore through four walls and you'll hear him," Laurinaitis said. "He's a big man. The whole sleep apnea -- all that stuff. I would always advocate to get him one of those things to put over his face because I don't want to hear him snoring anymore."

Laurinaitis, an inside linebacker with the Buckeyes, never tangled much in practice with Boone, a left tackle, while in college. On Sunday, however, the matchup between Laurinaitis, who leads the Rams in tackles, and a 49ers running attack that ranks No. 1 in the league promises to be the main event.

It also might be a good matchup to have mic'ed up. Both players are rather talkative. "Oh, absolutely. Abolutely. That's just Alex," Laurinaitis said. "There's going to be some fun trash talking going on between me and him. And I look forward to it."

Both players left Ohio State in 2009. Laurinaitis was a second-round pick. Boone, who once was mentioned as a potential first rounder, wasn't drafted at all after a well-publicized alcohol-related incident in Southern California raised red flags about his character.

He caught on with the 49ers' practice squad after the 49ers picked him up as an undrafted free agent.

Said Laurinaitis of the road his former teammate has traveled: "Just to see him get things right and to really go forward with that. The physical stuff, I never questioned at all with Alex Boone. He is an extremely big human being. He always worked hard. Seeing him catch on and seeing how much he battled -- I mean, talk about perseverance. He's a practice-squad guy who's worked his way into this lineup. It's cool to see that with guys that you don't know. But when you know somebody personally, it's awesome to see that."

Linebacker Larry Grant, another Ohio State alum, also was roommates with Laurinaitis and could resist getting in a few digs on his former teammate.

"I've never smelt a person so bad in my life as Laurinaitis," Grant said straight-faced. "I've never had to walk into a room, open every window, leave the door open because of this guy."

Grant's humor also preceded a lot of praise. "He's definitely not at the stature of Justin Smith," he said. "But as a linebacker -- he doesn't take a play off. He's a guy that you definitely would love to have on your team. He's going to line everybody up, get everybody put in the right places for sure, and at the snap of the ball he's going to go. It doesn't matter where it goes, he's going to be part of that play."

-- Matt Barrows

November 7, 2012
Fisher: I've never faced an offense that was so well-coached

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Hearing opposing coaches heap praise on the 49ers during their weekly conference call is nothing new. Rams coach Jeff Fisher, however, broke new ground today by continually citing San Francisco's offense and not its defense, which to this point has been the 49ers' more renown -- and feared -- unit.

"There's very few weaknesses on the football team, especially on the offensive side," Fisher, who, of course, speaks from a defensive perspective. "There's not mistakes. That's the thing about John's (sic) teams. They just don't make mistakes."

Fisher, who is in his first year as St. Louis' coach, noted that all of the NFC West teams have good defenses. The difference among the group, he said, is that the 49ers also have a good offense. It ranks 12th overall. St. Louis' offense is next, at No. 28, followed by Seattle (No. 29) and Arizona (No. 31). "The remaining three of us," Fisher said, "are quite a ways behind" on offense.

Fisher zeroed in on the 49ers' run game, which is averaging 168.6 yards a game, the best in the league. Said Fisher: "I can't remember having to prepare for an offense that was so well-coached and so diversified in the run game and so talented. Then you add the multiplicity in the passing game and (Alex Smith's) decision-making ability, it's no surprise to me that they're able to accomplish what they accomplished last year and what's ahead of them this year."

November 6, 2012
Aldon Smith: Bad news sure travels quickly

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Aldon Smith said Tuesday he's learned a lot over the often tumultuous last year. One of the principle lessons, he said: "I think bad news sometimes circulates bigger than good news."

The speed and power of bad news was on display last week when a Twitter report that Smith had been "jumped" in a Columbia, Mo. restaurant created headlines in California and beyond. Columbia police acknowledge there was an incident at El Rancho restaurant but it wasn't serious enough to fill out a report. Smith called the ordeal "absurd."

His refrain Tuesday when asked about it: "Nothing happened."

The original Tweet likely would have gone unnoticed if not for Smith's checkered year. The headlines began in January with a DUI arrest and included an incident in which he received minor stab wounds at a wild house party he was hosting. He also was the passenger in a car that flipped two days before the 49ers played the Detroit Lions. Smith suffered a cut above his eye in the crash but played against the Lions.

November 6, 2012
If the playoffs began tomorrow ...

Here's the 49ers' competition for playoff spots in the second half of the season ...

If the postseason began tomorrow, the Falcons (8-0) and Bears (7-1) would get first-round byes like the Packers and 49ers did last season. The Giants (6-3) would host the top wild-card team, the Packers (6-3), while the 49ers would host the second-best wild-card team, the Seahawks (5-4). Seattle would edge out the Vikings (5-4) for the final spot by virtue of their head-to-head win over Minnesota Sunday.

The 49ers, of course, host the Bears on Monday Night Football Nov. 19 and could wrest away the lead for the No. 2 seed with a win. My sixth sense: Keep an eye on the NFC South where Tampa Bay is surging and the Saints could do the same. The 49ers visit New Orleans after the Bears game, which will be a short week.

NFC West
49ers 6-2
Seahawks 5-4
Cardinals 4-5
Rams 3-5

NFC East
Giants 6-3
Eagles 3-5
Cowboys 3-5
Redskins 3-6

NFC North
Bears 7-1
Packers 6-3
Vikings 5-4
Lions 4-4

NFC South
Falcons 8-0
Buccaneers 4-4
Saints 3-5
Panthers 2-6

*******************
Every active 49ers player, including running back Jewel Hampton, was on the field when practice began Tuesday at 12:30 p.m.. Guard/center Daniel Kilgore, who suffered a concussion Oct. 29 against Arizona, was in a black, no-contact jersey. Darius Fleming (knee) and Parys Haralson (triceps) were working out on a side field.

-- Matt Barrows

November 6, 2012
49ers make roster moves with injured rookies Fleming, Hampton

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The 49ers have made decisions -- sort of -- on outside linebacker Darius Fleming and running back Jewel Hampton, both of whom were injured at the start of training camp.

Hampton will rejoin practice today. The team has a three-week window to place him on the active roster. If that doesn't happen, he will stay on the the reserve/non-football injury list for the rest of the season. Because the 49ers have an abundance of runners this year -- Brandon Jacobs, for example, has yet to play a snap -- it's very hard to see Hampton being activated unless there is a rash of injuries at the position.

Fleming, meanwhile, will remain on the physically unable to perform list for the rest of the season. He suffered a torn ACL in the first practice of the year in May. And while he is ahead of schedule in his recovery, the 49ers also have some depth at the outside linebacker position and don't want to bring Fleming back too early. Both he and fellow outside-linebacker draft pick Cam Johnson likely will be de facto rookies next season. Johnson is a member of the practice squad but is recovering from his own knee injury.

Fleming was a fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame. Hampton was an undrafted free agent who played at Iowa before transferring to Southern Illinois where he ran for 1,121 yards and 17 touchdowns last year. Both players have rehabilitated with the 49ers and attended practices throughout the offseason and regular season.

-- Matt Barrows

November 5, 2012
Harbaugh on Aldon Smith incident: Don't trust the Internet

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Jim Harbaugh said the 49ers have spoken to linebacker Aldon Smith about an alleged bye-week incident at a restaurant in Columbia, Missouri and that they believe Smith when he reported, via Twitter, "Didn't get jumped -- stop asking."

Rumors of yet another off-field incident involving Smith began Thursday when a reporter with the NBC television affiliate in Columbia reported, also via Twitter, that Smith was "jumped" at the El Rancho restaurant in town. Columbia police reported there was an incident at the restaurant but did not fill out a report. The reporter later wrote that "jumped" perhaps was a poor choice of words.

Harbaugh said that general manager Trent Baalke spoke to Smith about the incident. "What Aldon said to us was the same as what he said publicly," Harbaugh said. "Also you tend to take a man at his word. I don't think there's anything more to add."

Well, Harbaugh had one more thing to say: "I personally tend not to believe everything I read on the Internet."

Earlier this year, Smith was arrested for DUI in Miami Beach and was stabbed at a sprawling party at his house in the hills east of San Jose. Smith qualified for a program to reduce the DUI charge to reckless driving. In September, Smith was a passenger in a vehicle that flipped when it swerved to avoid a deer on a road near his home. Smith was wearing his seat belt and suffered only a cut above his eye; the driver was seriously injured and was taken to the regional trauma center.

-- Matt Barrows

November 5, 2012
Something extra: 49ers nearly perfect after long work weeks

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Unfortunate timing for the Rams. The 49ers coaching staff had a week's extra time to prepare for Sunday's game, and since Jim Harbaugh, et al. have taken over, that's usually bad news for their opponents.

The 49ers are 8-1 in the last season and a half when they have at least one more day than usual to prepare for a game, with their only loss in that category an overtime defeat to the Giants on Jan. 22. That game was played on a Sunday; the preceding game, a 36-32 win over New Orleans, came on a Saturday.

"The coaches -- they're always dialed in, no matter if it's a Thursday night game, Monday night game. They're always on it," guard Alex Boone said. "They work here all night. For the Thursday night game, we came in on Monday and they had the whole game plan in. They looked like they had been up all night. But that's the kind of guys they are. They want to be around here and they want to see us succeed."

You might look at the numbers and say, 'No duh, Barrows. Teams typically will win on a long week because the players have extra rest.' Well, the Mike Singletary-led 49ers went 4-5 in 2009 and 2010 when given extra time to prepare for a game.

2011
Sept. 11: 33-17 vs. Seattle. Season opener
Sept. 30: 20-10 vs. Cleveland. Following bye
Dec. 14: 26-0 vs. St. Louis. Following Thurs. game
Dec. 19: 20-3 vs. Pittsburgh. Mon. night game
Jan. 1: 34-27 at St. Louis. Following Sat. game
Jan. 14: 36-32 vs. New Orleans. Following playoff bye
Jan. 22: 17-20 OT vs. NYG. Following Sat. game

2012
Sept. 9: 30-22 at Green Bay. Season opener.
Oct. 29: 24-3 at Arizona. Following Thurs. game

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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