No, no, no, no.
Rice's full statement is as follows: "I seriously think they got to take the diaper off this guy and let him play. Let him be a grown man."
Again, I could not disagree more.
The 49ers came within a muffed punt and a final offensive drive of the Super Bowl last year. They arrived at that moment by playing stout defense and ball-control offense. They return all 11 starters on the defensive side of the ball and have indeed added weapons on the offensive side.
Those weapons should be used to augment their offensive attack, not to change what it is Jim Harbaugh wants to do with Alex Smith.
I said it in our Best Case/Worst Case video series when we discussed the 49ers (you can see the video below): My biggest fear for this 49ers team is that they try to do too much on offense, such as trying to expand what they ask of Smith, and that that leads them down a disastrous path.
A key reason for this is that Harbaugh has made the passing game easier for Smith, particularly when it comes to beating the blitz. Of course, coaches often say they are "simplifying the playbook," but Harbaugh has been able to do it coherently and in a way that actually aids his quarterback's ability to succeed rather than simply removes options.
That is what Smith needs to continue to do, not start throwing it 25 to 30 times a game out of the shotgun spread.
I respect the hell out of Jerry Rice. He's one of the greatest to ever play the game. But on this, he is dead wrong.