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Harbaugh refuses to name starter for Sunday's game

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The Associated Press
11/23/2012 10:39:13 PM
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Jim Harbaugh expects Alex Smith to be medically cleared to play by Saturday.

Still, the 49ers coach did not announce Friday who will start at quarterback at New Orleans in two days.

Harbaugh says it serves no purpose to his team and organization to let anybody know what his plan at quarterback is for Sunday's game against the Saints.

Harbaugh also refutes reports earlier this week that he already has told Smith and Colin Kaepernick that Kaepernick will continue as the team's starter after making his first NFL start during Monday's rout of the Chicago Bears.

The coach indicates his stance on the quarterback situation is unlikely to change before the 49ers (7-2-1) meet the Saints (5-5) in a rematch of last year's NFC divisional playoff game won 36-32 by San Francisco.

"We could set our watch here for another 15 minutes and you could keep asking questions and the answers will still be the same," Harbaugh said Friday. "We feel like there's no competitive advantage for us to release that information. We just do not get into what the role's going to be, how we're going to use them, and the specifics of that. It's unorthodox. So be it. That's the way we are going to go about it."

Smith had started 28 consecutive games for the 49ers before he suffered a concussion during the team's 24-24 tie with St. Louis on Nov. 11. Smith practiced all of last week in a non-contact black jersey, but the team declared him out Monday morning for the Bears game later that evening after he was evaluated by team medical director Dr. Dan Garza.

Kaepernick had an auspicious starting debut in place of Smith, passing for 243 yards and two touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 133.1 to lead the 49ers to a 32-7 victory.

Smith practiced again in a black jersey Friday, as he has all week, and Harbaugh said Smith has gone several days without exhibiting any concussion-like symptoms.

"Alex went through his final test today and will be cleared tomorrow, if tomorrow again there are no symptoms," Harbaugh said. "He hasn't had any symptoms since Tuesday, so that's a real positive."

Kaepernick and Smith did not speak Friday with reporters.

A decision will be made Saturday regarding Smith's status for the Saints game.

Harbaugh said reports this week he already has spoken to both quarterbacks and has made a decision who will start against the Saints are "not factual."

"I know there are probably a lot of reports out there, and some of them have been brought to my attention," Harbaugh said. "I didn't see any factual that (were) showed to me."

Harbaugh said earlier this week that the 49ers don't have a quarterback controversy and the team is confident in both players. The coach said both Smith and Kaepernick have the "hot hand," and he could even envision switching between the two during the rest of the season.

Smith had been playing some of his best football before being injured, completing 25 of 27 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns with no turnovers in his two previous games.

Smith had passer ratings of 157.1 and 143.8 in those two games, and he's currently the NFL's third-ranked quarterback with a 104.1 rating. Smith leads the NFL with a 70.0 completion percentage and is third in the league with an average gain of 7.98 yards per pass attempt.

But Kaepernick gave the 49ers a new dimension as a deep passer against the Bears, completing six passes of 20 or more yards to four receivers. Kaepernick is averaging 9.16 yards per pass attempt and also ranks third on the team with 189 yards rushing, averaging 7.6 yards per carry.

"Both quarterbacks are looking sharp," offensive co-ordinator Greg Roman said. "Colin's getting some of the reps, Alex is getting some of the reps, and that's how it gets divvied up.

"As far as specific game plan goes, it'll tilt one way or the other a little bit, but it won't be that different. It's a 49ers game plan. The beauty of having a quarterback like Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick is it's a great situation to be in. But what's happened up to this point is history."

Alex Smith (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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