SANTA CLARA — Alex Smith is supportive of Colin Kaepernick’s success, even if the second-year pro takes Smith’s starting job as 49ers quarterback.
“If you can’t be happy for your teammate’s success you’re playing the wrong sport. Go play tennis or golf or something,” Smith said Wednesday. “That’s ridiculous, I think. That doesn’t belong in team sports, in my opinion. It’s the quarterback position. It gets a lot of attention. We’re going to get talked about.”
Smith plans to fight for his job once he is fully healthy, and he had yet to be medically cleared Wednesday after missing Monday night’s 32-7 rout of the Bears recovering from a concussion.
Yet coach Jim Harbaugh said that once Smith is available, the QB for the NFC West-leading Niners (7-2-1) could change week to week, and even during the course of a game. Harbaugh gave no indication when he would select his No. 1 for Sunday’s game at New Orleans (5-5).
“People are probably drooling all over themselves because they have something to talk about,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll let it play out. I wouldn’t expect an announcement today or any timeline on that. We’ll get that to you.”
Harbaugh underwent a follow-up evaluation for his irregular heartbeat Tuesday and said, “believe we’ve got that one licked.” He has quit chewing tobacco and given up the four or five Diet Cokes he was drinking daily after doctors encouraged him to improve his diet and decrease his caffeine intake. Harbaugh underwent a cardiovert procedure last Thursday.
“Zero,” he said of soda and dipping. “Cold turkey.”
He swears he’s had no headaches as he moves off caffeine. But picking his quarterback for Sunday’s game at the Superdome very well could give him one.
Smith completed 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in a Monday night win Oct. 29 at Arizona for a passer rating of 157.1. Smith then sustained a concussion in the second quarter of a 24-24 tie against St. Louis on Nov. 11. He even threw a touchdown pass with blurred vision six plays after taking the hit doctors believe caused his injury.
Kaepernick went 16 for 23 for 243 yards, two touchdowns and an impressive passer rating of 133.1 in his first NFL start Monday against Chicago. The second-round draft pick out of Nevada in 2011 hardly seemed fazed by football’s big stage. He directed scoring drives on the Niners’ initial four possessions and completed 12 of his first 14 passes, with a 57-yard throw to Kyle Williams that set up Vernon Davis’ 3-yard TD on the next play.
Harbaugh rated Kaepernick’s debut start as “A-plus-plus.”
“Whatever coach says goes,” running back Frank Gore said of who might be handing him the ball. “We’ve got two great quarterbacks on the team. We’re happy that we’ve got two good quarterbacks. Whoever coach names, that’s who we’ve got to roll with. … I’m happy we’ve got two quarterbacks who can play and lead our team to victory. That’s what you want.”
Smith said he and Kaepernick have spoken frequently in recent days, and both want what’s best for the team moving forward.
“We’ve always been on each other’s side, we’ve always supported each other,” Kaepernick said. “We’re going to keep doing that.”
When asked if he has earned another start, he said that was up to Harbaugh.
The New Orleans defense is preparing for both. The Saints were impressed by Kaepernick’s prime-time performance, but also have painful memories of Smith’s sensational night in a 36-32 victory against favored New Orleans in the NFC divisional playoffs last January.
“There’s not much of a difference between him and Alex Smith,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “They’re both very athletic, they throw the ball. We saw Kaepernick has a big arm. He can make all the throws. And the offense ran the same with him. So we can prepare the same for both of them.”
Competing for his job is nothing new for the 28-year-old Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick.
Smith took over as 49ers starter midway through 2009 and was entrenched as the No. 1 heading into 2010. After separating his non-throwing left shoulder at Carolina, former coach Mike Singletary turned to 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith for the next five games — even after Alex Smith was healthy again. Troy Smith went 3-2, then it was Alex Smith’s turn again for two games, including a commanding win over eventual 2010 West champion Seattle.
After a flop at San Diego, Singletary turned back to Troy Smith for a must-win game with the Rams. That 25-17 loss cost the coach his job with one week to go. Jim Tomsula, serving a single-game stint as interim head coach, went with Alex Smith for a win against Arizona.
Smith understands this is the way it goes in the NFL — and in his case, year after year.
“Yeah, I’ve been in a few of these, you know?” Smith said. “And they’re all different. You know, I think the great thing is obviously the character of this locker room. We’ve got great character in the quarterback room, too.
“It’s not easy, it can be complicated, but this is a good problem for the 49ers. It’s a good problem for us as a team. It’s not a bad thing.”
Notes: LB Aldon Smith was selected NFC Defensive Player of the Week, following fellow linebacker Patrick Willis’ honor earlier this season. Official scorers reviewed tape after Monday’s win and gave him an additional half-sack for 5 ½ of the six on Bears backup QB Jason Campbell. “I think I made a lot of plays out there. They got the numbers right,” said Smith, the NFL sacks leader with 15. “I had fun.” … CB Chris Culliver, who played Monday night, wore a non-contact black jersey in practice as he nurses a shoulder injury.