Harbaugh encouraged by QB Smith's athleticism

September 15, 2011, 4:45 pm
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Matt MaioccoCSNBayArea.com
SANTA CLARA -- With no offseason program, just a month of practices and four exhibition games in which his starters played no more than a quarter at a time, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is still learning about his team.The 49ers' season-opening victory over the Seahawks provided Harbaugh and his coaching staff with the best gauge with which to evaluate their players.
"We learned a lot about our team," Harbaugh said. "The fact that you play the preseason and not everybody's playing every snap. They've not all played together. You learn quite a bit. How much? I think it's a good amount."What Harbaugh learned -- and impressed him -- most about quarterback Alex Smith was his ability to make plays while on the move."Really encouraged by that," Harbaugh said. "That was a point of emphasis during this training camp. To see him respond that way and do things that move the chains, get you closer to first downs, put you in more manageable situations, as far as the down and distance is concerned, is something that's a real positive for our ball club."Smith scrambled four times for 24 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run in which he made one defender miss and morphed into a running back to break the plane of the goal line while absorbing a hit from Seattle linebacker Aaron Curry.On pass attempts in which he was on the move or slid outside the pocket, Smith completed 6 of 8 attempts for 42 yards. Michael Crabtree dropped a short pass on one of the plays. On the other incomplete pass it was difficult tell if Smith was outside the tackle box. But a flag for illegal contact in the end zone was picked up because referee Jeff Triplette ruled that Smith was out of the pocket.Smith said he has the freedom to improvise and create more plays with his feet with Harbaugh as his coach. Smith might be less inclined to throw the ball away and more apt to stick with a play longer this season to see if something develops."Especially when things break down, something's not there, I use my feet and try to become my own check-down or make something happen," Smith said.Harbaugh sees Smith's athleticism as an aspect of his game that can be emphasized as a key part of the 49ers' offense."Yeah, making good decisions, buying time, distorting the defense," Harbaugh said. "You're out of the pocket, that coverage doesn't hold up as long when you can buy time and get out of the pocket. They lose guys, sometimes they have to come up to tackle the quarterback and the quarterback can put it over their head or it distorts the defense in a way. Happy that he was doing it and playing the game that way."It's just something a quarterback has to do. I'm sure there's risk, but you saw Alex make two big plays when he was out of the pocket. I think this year will be no different than any other year in football. The most touchdown passes are off of quarterbacks moving."The 49ers play the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at Candlestick Park, and the quarterback on the other sideline is a player Harbaugh has admired for nearly a decade for many of the same reasons.Quarterback Tony Romo caught Harbaugh's eye in 2003 when he wrote draft evaluations for the Raiders as an assistant coach. Romo went undrafted out of Eastern Illinois, but Harbaugh placed a second-round grade on him, a source told CSNBayArea.com in January when the 49ers were pursuing Harbaugh as head coach in January."An elite quarterback, no question about it when it comes to the accuracy, the improvisation, the confidence to throw it into tight windows," Harbaugh said. "All those things make him a top-flight quarterback."

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