49ers Blog and Q&A

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

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


@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?

ANSW: Jacobs -- he's higher on the depth chart at his position than the other two. I speculated in the spring that Jacobs was signed as "Gore insurance" -- a veteran the team could lean on if something were to happen to Gore during the season. That seems to be the case. Gore will be a bit gimpy this week, so Jacobs' debut could be in the offing.

@JeffreyBTaylor: Was Jenkins and LaMichael drafted to fit in the offense when Kap takes over at QB? They fit his style.

ANSW: While your English is suspect, your instincts are right on. We all saw how well Kaepernick and LaMichael James worked together in the preseason. I'm sure he was drafted with an eye toward the 49ers' quarterback future. I think the 49ers also liked the potential of using both James and Kendall Hunter in the same backfield.

@Keval81: Common denominator in our three losses: elite slot reciever (Harvin, Cruz, Amendola). Relfection of scheme or Carlos Rogers?

ANSW: While your spelling is suspect, you make a good observation. To this point, the 49ers have been confident in allowing Rogers to cover the slot receiver one on one. Fangio liked him in that role in large part because Rogers is smart and experienced. But he just doesn't have the quickness to keep track of guys like Cruz and Amendola. (The Vikings were moving Harvin all over the field, not just from the slot). I'm not sure anyone is that spry. Tarell Brown is the 49ers' quickest cornerback while Perrish Cox is the backup slot/nickel corner. It might be that they have to adjust their coverage by sacrificing the deep help the free safety provides. *Also -- and I realize it doesn't feel this way -- the 49ers did not lose the last game.

Bonus @Keval81 question: do you see harbaugh keeping us in the dark about the qb situation until game time?

ANSW: Oh boy, if he had his druthers, Harbaugh would loooooooove to do that. Unfortunately for him, he has to file injury reports throughout the week that should give us an indication of Smith's availability. That being said, the fact that Kaepernick is such a unique quarterback plays to the 49ers' advantage. That is, the Bears have to begin the week preparing for either Kaepernick or Alex Smith, which ought to increase their work load.

-- Matt 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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