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."
Shortly thereafter Smith was asked whether he felt let down that Harbaugh was contemplating giving Kaepernick the starting job. "No," Smith said. "Once again, that's his call. Colin played great. Stepped up and played really well on a big stage versus a good defense. Like I said, it comes with the territory."
Harbaugh's decision might be made easier by the fact that Smith still hasn't been cleared for duty following his concussion. Both Harbaugh and Smith sounded confident Smith would be cleared this week. But Smith on Wednesday wore a black, no-contact jersey for the fifth straight practice session and was listed as a limited participant.
"I feel good. I feel really good," Smith said. "So I'm kind of expecting things to go well."
But that's what Smith said last week. The 49ers gave Smith the bulk of the practice repetitions at the beginning of the week, then began shifting them to Kaepernick when Smith's concussion symptoms returned.
"Ultimately the decision came down to me and my health and whether was I ok," Smith said "And I didn't feel like it was something to tough through. Hopefully, the doctor is going to clear me."
Harbaugh has lavished praise on Smith since the 49ers hired him in January. His actions, however, haven't always matched the effusive rhetoric. He and the 49ers pursued Peyton Manning when both Manning and Smith were free agents during the offseason. And when Smith finally signed with the 49ers, it was not a contract befitting an "elite" quarterback, as Harbaugh has described Smith, but one that ranked Smith among the bottom half of starting quarterbacks in the league.
"I guess you don't expect anything," said Smith of the turn of events over the last week. "This is the nature of the game. The next guy steps up and plays well. That's part of the deal in this game. Competition is part of it as well. Don't know what's going to happen."
Smith has been involved in quarterback competitions since he arrived in 2005, and none of them tore apart the 49ers' locker room or created a rift between the passers. Smith and Shaun Hill, who battled for the starting job in 2009, even were in each others' wedding parties.
Smith said he expected the same camaraderie with Kaepernick, who was hand-picked by Harbaugh during the 2011 draft. Said Kaepernick: "We both want to do whatever's best for the team. Whatever's going to make us win."
Said Smith: "In my opinion, if you can't be happy for your teammate's success, you're playing the wrong sport. Go play tennis or golf or something. It's ridiculous, I think. That doesn't belong in team sports, in my opinion."
-- Matt Barrows