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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."

CRABTREE A &‘GOOD GUY'

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.

Last week, he developed sore feet after the first day of the minicamp and missed the final three days of practice. He was also reluctant to acknowledge Smith's status as the favorite to be the Niners' starting quarterback.

Are there concerns about Crabtree's character? Harbaugh dismissed the notion, terming the wide receiver "a good guy and a good football player."

"From my experience being around him, I think he's a guy who's about us and about the team being successful," Harbaugh said.

POSITIVE APPROACH TO LOCKOUT

Harbaugh said his optimism regarding the NFL lockout wasn't based on inside information. During his interview with Enberg, he said he thought the lockout could end in early July.

"I don't know anything more than what you read in the paper and what I read in the paper," he said. "I choose to be optimistic and prepared."

CAMP COULD BODE WELL

Harbaugh seemed to believe last week's minicamp will prove beneficial, whenever the lockout ends.

"What a neat thing that is," he said. "You know, where character guys can really get a leg up on some of the competition ... It's just been interesting for me to watch and read that our guys are getting together and I think that could really bode well for us."

STUDYING THE SEAHAWKS ... AND OTHERS

What's the coaching staff been doing since the draft? Harbaugh said they've been game-planning, organizing training camp — every minute has been accounted for, he said — and breaking down their first opponents.

"Not only the preseason ones," he said, "but also Game1, Game2, Game3 and Game4."

The 49ers' first four games are against the Seahawks, Cowboys, Bengals and Eagles.

For more on the 49ers, go to Instant 49ers at 49ers.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Writer Eric Branch at eric.branch@pressdemocrat.com and follow him at twitter.com/Eric_Branch.

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