Count Alex Smith, the man who lost his job to Colin Kaepernick, among those impressed by what the second-year quarterback has accomplished in the last nine games. And it's not just the quarterback's athleticism and play-making ability, Smith said.
"I knew that, I think guys around here knew that," Smith said of Kaepernick's big arm and fast feet. "It's the lack of young mistakes that has really jumped out at me. Most young guys come in - yeah, they show flashes and they think they can play good at times. But then they also seem to have those young moments as well, you know, rookie moments and kind of bone-headed things. And he hasn't done it. He's played good ball. He's really played patient and played smart."
Smith, of course, was in the midst of his best season and had led the 49ers to a 6-2 record when he suffered a concussion Nov. 11. Kaepernick had a stunningly successful performance the following week against Chicago, and the week after that Jim Harbaugh decided to stick with Kaepernick over a healthy Smith.
How does Smith feel about watching another quarterback lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl? His feelings are mixed.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a little bittersweet," he said. "Yeah, I want to be out there. It's what you work for coming into the season. That was the mindset, that was the goal for me. But at the same time, it is a team sport and these are my teammates. You go through so much together, especially these guys who have been here for a chunk of time. If you can't be happy, there's something wrong with you."
Smith also noted that he got the starting job at Utah after starter Brett Elliott got hurt in 2003 and that it would be hypocritical of him to fume over how things transpired this season. Smith led the Utes to a win over Cal - he had 71 rushing yards and touchdown - the following week that season and never relinquished the starting job until declaring for the NFL draft. The 49ers made him the No. 1 pick.
"It's the nature of sports, you know?" he said of Kaepernick's rise. "Yeah, he got an opportunity, stepped up and made the most of it. That's the deal."
-- Matt Barrows