Harbaugh mum on Smith

  • Members of the San Francisco 49ers, led by quarterback, Alex Smith (center, blue cap, black shorts) hold a private mini-camp in Spartan Stadium at San Jose State University in San Jose on June 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Mercury News, Gary Reyes) ** TECHNICAL NOTE: THE PRACTICE WAS CLOSED TO THE MEDIA SO THIS IMAGE WAS SHOT THROUGH A CHAIN LINK FENCE**

Three days after praising Alex Smith's character, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was back in tight-lipped mode Wednesday when it came to questions about his free-agent quarterback.

During a 15-minute interview on "The Murph & Mac Show" on KNBR, Harbaugh avoided mentioning Smith by name, apparently taking pains to honor last month's memo from the NFL asking the Niners to not publicly discuss players not on their roster.

On Sunday, Harbaugh, despite the memo, had spoken freely about Smith during an on-air interview with Padres announcer Dick Enberg during a Padres-Nationals game in San Diego. Harbaugh said Smith's decision to return to San Francisco, where he's been the subject of withering criticism, displayed "a rare kind of character. It probably falls somewhere in the endangered and extinct range. So we can win with that."

On KNBR, however, Harbaugh was asked two Smith-related questions and, in response, spoke in general terms.

Asked about "Camp Alex" — last week's players-only offensive minicamp led by Smith — Harbaugh spread the love to the team. There were around 20 offensive players practicing daily during the four-day camp.

"Obviously you don't get that many guys out there, if what I read is correct, by just one guy," Harbaugh said. "That's a lot of guys making plans, changing their schedules and making the effort to be there. So I think it's a sign of character guys that winning is important and being prepared is important."

Later, Harbaugh was asked about separating Smith's sterling character and work ethic from his uneven on-field performance.

"When it comes to performing on the field, that will be determined when we get all our players in here and we practice and start playing games and we find out who our best players are," he said. "Right now, we don't know who our best players are. We're figuring that out and we'll figure that out when they get in here and start practicing."


Wide receiver Michael Crabtree had a well-publicized run-in with tight end Vernon Davis during training camp last year and has generated recent headlines by not participating in regular throwing sessions Smith has held with other Niners receivers at San Jose State.

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