Coach can't play it close to vest anymore, as he did in exhibition season


Two things will happen in the 49ers' season opener against Seattle. The first is the result — the 49ers will win or lose. That's obvious, and that's the most important issue.

But there is something else. During the exhibition season, Jim Harbaugh revealed almost nothing. He revealed little in his spoken words and he revealed little about his team — especially his offense — in the four exhibition games. People say he kept things "vanilla," or "he didn't show his cards."

Let's stick with the cards metaphor. Against the Seahawks, Harbaugh finally will show his cards — he must. So the question is: What exactly are his cards?

Against Seattle we will find out if he's sitting on a full house or if he's got a pair of deuces, at best. Be clear about this. You don't know what cards Harbaugh is holding and Seattle coach Pete Carroll doesn't know, either.

Here are some of the cards he must show, finally.

Quarterback: Is Alex Smith quarterback as leader or quarterback as game manager? No one knows, but we'll find out real fast.

The most controversial thing Harbaugh did was to retain Smith as starting quarterback. Just mentioning Smith polarizes 49ers fans. Some defend him — he had bad coaches and all those offensive coordinators. Some revile him — he's had too many chances and he never will win.

Harbaugh could have sidestepped this controversy by looking elsewhere for a quarterback. He did nothing of the kind. He is a stubborn man who believes in his version of reality and he did not care what anyone else thought. This is either a heroic position or a foolish position.

Just how will Harbaugh use Smith? Perhaps he will ask Smith to throw a series of short passes and hand off the ball a lot — "Just be a game manager, Alex, and please don't screw things up." That would be a version of the West Coast Offense, short passes used like runs. Is that what Harbaugh intends?

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