After a stellar start by Colin Kaepernick on Monday Night Football against the Chicago Bears, the San Francisco 49ers could have a quarterback controversy on their hands. Just don't expect this to be the unraveling of Alex Smith's career.
Speaking to the media after the 49ers' 32-7 victory, head coach Jim Harbaugh was very vague when asked if Kaepernick would be his starting quarterback moving forward. (h/t Matt Maiocco of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area)
Since fans and analysts love a good quarterback controversy, and Harbaugh did nothing to dissuade anyone from drawing that conclusion, speculation is going to run rampant all week leading up to Sunday's game against New Orleans about who will be starting.
Jim Harbaugh on QB: "We'll see. I usually tend to go with the guy who has the hot hand. We got two quarterbacks who have a hot hand."— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) November 20, 2012
However, before we go full bore with this controversy, it is important to consider a couple of things. First, Smith still has to be cleared to play before anything can happen. The only reason there is a controversy is because he had to sit out Monday's game with a concussion, which wasn't announced until the day of the game.
Second, and you can't stress this enough, people overreact to one game in the NFL. I know that is shocking, but very true.
Smith has been in this position basically his entire career. When he was drafted first overall, very few people were high on the pick. Coming out of Urban Meyer's offense at Utah, Smith was seen as a "system" quarterback whose hands were too small and he didn't go up against enough competition.
Here is what Sports Illustratred's profile said about Smith prior to the 2005 NFL Draft:
A natural leader that does an excellent job running the offense, Smith has been very productive the past two years. Stays away from mistakes and has a tremendous touchdown-to-interception ratio. Does not have a deep passing arm just yet but would be initially effective in a timing or West Coast offense as he grows into a pro passing game.
A lot of kind words in there, but hardly a ringing endorsement for a No. 1 overall pick. Then Smith had to deal with the revolving door of offensive coordinators the 49ers kept bringing in.
From 2005-10, the 49ers had six different offensive coordinators. There was no stability in the scheme or game plan for Smith to get comfortable with, so it was natural that a young quarterback was going to struggle for a long time.
A funny thing happened along the way: Despite all the changes, Smith started to produce. Playing in just 11 games in 2009, Smith completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 2,350 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Despite being a free agent prior to the start of the 2011 season, Smith decided to re-sign with the 49ers after meeting with Harbaugh, who was hired just months earlier.
Smith had the best season of his career last year, throwing for over 3,000 yards for the first time in his career, completing a career-high 61.3 percent of his passes with a 17-5 TD-INT ratio.
The 49ers made the NFC Championship Game and got to overtime against the eventual-champion New York Giants, but it still wasn't good enough, as the team was pursuing free agent Peyton Manning hard in the offseason.
Even though Smith, who was also a free agent, wanted to remain with the 49ers, it was smart business for the team to see if Manning would join them.
Manning went to the Broncos, and Smith re-signed with the 49ers for three years. Despite some talk that there could be hard feelings, Smith was having the best year of his career in 2012 before getting hurt.
Through nine games, Smith was completing 70 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns against just five interceptions. The team is leading the NFC West and is averaging nearly 25 points per game.
All of this is to say that Smith has been fighting through controversy his entire career. Harbaugh has a great relationship with Smith. The idea that Kaepernick is all of a sudden a better quarterback for this offense because of one game is ridiculous.
Kaepernick showed a lot against a good Bears defense, but it is just one game. How many flash-in-the-pan quarterbacks have we seen play one great game? Tim Tebow torched Pittsburgh's defense in the playoffs last year, but no one is going to defend him as a great quarterback.
Smith isn't going to lose sleep over anything that Harbaugh said, nor is he in danger of losing his job. Kaepernick just gives the 49ers another weapon that they can use, which they were doing already. Remember, prior to taking over in Week 11, Kaepernick had been used in a few passing plays and the wildcat.
The 49ers are going to mix-and-match on offense. They are going to use various formations that no one else in the league will even think about. Kaepernick is going to be a bigger part of the game plan, but Smith is still going to remain the starter and will remain productive.
Harbaugh didn't exactly bash Smith, either. He just said that they have two guys at the same position playing well. That is a luxury a lot of teams in this league would love to have.