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COHN: Harbaugh will make the right choice and start Kaepernick

Multiple reports indicate that Colin Kaepernick will start for the 49ers at quarterback on Sunday against the Saints.

JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat
Published: Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 11:08 p.m.

I'm going to make two assumptions. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by any means, but I am making assumptions.

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Multiple reports indicate that Colin Kaepernick will start for the 49ers at quarterback on Sunday against the Saints.

JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat

Facts

TODAY'S GAME

NFL Week 12

49ers (7-2-1) at Saints (5-5)

Time: 1:25 p.m.
TV: Fox Ch. 2
Radio: 680 AM

Assumption No. 1: Colin Kaepernick will start today's game at quarterback against the Saints.

I make this assumption even though at his Friday media session, Jim Harbaugh was mum on the subject. “Again, it's just not something we think is an advantage for us to talk about,” he said when asked who will start the game. “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.”

I, for one, have no intention of calling Harbaugh names or making sport of him. And that expression “make sport of me” is so British. Are there unexplored sides to Harbaugh? Does he drink tea with milk at 3 p.m. in his office and eat crumpets? It is his business that he does not want publicly to name his starter at QB. He'd be a dunce to name him if he doesn't have to, so all credit to Harbaugh on this one.

Assumption No. 2: Harbaugh would give Kaepernick this start whether or not Smith were cleared to play after his concussion. As I write this, I do not know if Smith has been cleared to play, but it doesn't matter. This is not a medical issue. This is a playing issue. Harbaugh, who gushed after Kaepernick's performance in the Bears game, who could not wipe the grin off his face, has every intention of starting Kaepernick. This, I believe.

Why will he start Kaepernick?

Because Kaepernick already is a better quarterback than Smith. Because Kaepernick has a better arm, runs better, can make throws Smith only dreams of making. Because the offense is dynamic with Kaepernick running it, and because it's hesitant with Smith running it.

I've told you this before — Bill Walsh said to me, about a million times, “The quarterback defines the limit of your offense.”

Consider that concept. Walsh barely had a limit, not with Joe Montana and Steve Young running the show. The sky was the limit. With Smith, the limit — the ceiling, if you will — is about eight-feet high, kind of cramped. Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman had to devise game plans that disguised Smith's highly-limited limitations. They had to work around Smith.

Not so with Kaepernick. They don't have to work around him. They can work through him. Finally, they can get Vernon Davis into the offense as a main weapon, as opposed to what he was — a pass blocker who ran the occasional pass route.

Smith not only limited himself, he limited Davis. And he made Roman look unimaginative. Roman indeed may be unimaginative. I don't know. Now we'll find out.

Some people who write into blogs insist Harbaugh won't start Kaepernick because it's not fair to Smith. They cite Smith's statistics, which are pretty good, and they say Smith has a winning record and he's the incumbent and a coach never unseats an incumbent with a winning record this late in the season. Etc. Etc.

I'm here to say none of that matters to Harbaugh. He didn't come to San Francisco to bolster Smith's ego or to save Smith's career. He came to win a Super Bowl and to develop an elite quarterback, a quarterback who is his guy.

Kaepernick is his guy and Smith is not. In the interim, Harbaugh made Smith, an average quarterback, good so he could make a young quarterback great. He did not draft Kaepernick to endlessly serve as Smith's backup. Harbaugh drafted Kaepernick to replace Smith. You know that.

How good is Kaepernick? Too early to tell. But you could say he has more talent than Andrew Luck, even more talent than Robert Griffin III. Kaepernick is bigger than RGIII, has a stronger arm and is almost as fast. Am I saying he will be better than those two? No. I'm merely making some comparisons.

You may think what Harbaugh is doing to Smith is insensitive, even cruel, yanking him after he took one for the team. For starters, Harbaugh isn't all that sensitive. You can't imagine him sitting down with Smith and asking about his feelings or saying, “We have to work through this emotionally.” Get serious.

Harbaugh is a football coach, and his entire being is devoted to winning, and he will let nothing stand in his way — at least nothing legal. That is Harbaugh. You either like him or you don't.

He's remarkably consistent. People are saying this harsh treatment of Smith looks bad, creates a bad image. It may, but Harbaugh could not care less about image or public perception or public relations. If he cared about public relations, he would not be so secretive and rude and insensitive to the media on a daily basis.

If you like the media-rude Harbaugh — and many of you do — you also must like the Smith-rude Harbaugh. It is the same man operating from the exact same motivations. I don't approve of the media-rude Harbaugh, but I do approve of the Smith-rude Harbaugh. I applaud the Smith-rude Harbaugh. And I know I can't get the Smith-rude Harbaugh without also enduring the media-rude Harbaugh.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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