Lowell Cohn: 49ers must coach Colin Kaepernick to Alex Smith's level

  • Alex Smith was much more adept at reading and adapting to defenses than Colin Kaepernick. But coach Jim Harbaugh saw more upside with Kaepernick and went with him for the remainder of the 2012 season. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

An old friend returns to the Bay Area on Sunday. Alex Smith will play quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs against the Raiders.

I pull for Smith. I bet you do, too. He is a gentleman. He had a rough go with Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary and he remained a gentleman. He was the first guy taken in the 2005 draft and, although he wasn't a bust — nothing like that — he never lived up to first-overall-pick promise. He read all about it and heard all about it and, still, he remained a gentleman.

And although he is not a great quarterback, he is a very good quarterback. He's doing just fine in Kansas City, has connected with Chiefs coach Andy Reid in ways he never connected with Jim Harbaugh. He even has a deep passing game, something he rarely showed in San Francisco — or was not allowed to show.

So, I ask a purely hypothetical question for the heck of it: Are the 49ers appreciably better at quarterback with Colin Kaepernick instead of Smith?

It's probably an impertinent question and it certainly calls into question what Kaepernick has done and is doing. And let's face it, last season no one would have asked the question. No one would have dared.

Kaepernick got the Niners to the Super Bowl and Smith would not have taken them to the Super Bowl. It's just that Kaepernick has been shaky this season, has not won games through sheer heroism as most people thought he would. He was a hero last season, but the hero went away.

I always thought Harbaugh and Trent Baalke were right to choose Kaepernick over Smith. I still think they were right. This is not a dump Kaepernick column or a dump on Kaepernick column. But I'll tell you this, if Smith were the 49ers quarterback, they would have just about the same record they have now.

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