At 2:25 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, Alex Smith had not been cleared to play Monday night against the Chicago Bears. I know this for a fact. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman conducted a news conference and said Smith had not been cleared.
Smith wore a black jersey during Saturday's practice. Although the black jersey bears a feeling of doom, the black is merely symbolic. It means Smith's teammates can't whack him during drills, but players never can whack a quarterback in practice. So, the black jersey is redundant. While it may not be a negative symbol, neither is it positive. It indicates, "Injured, handle with care." And it raises the question: Will Smith be ready to start Monday night?
FYI, Colin Kaepernick, the backup QB, wore a flaming red jersey, the full-speed-ahead, let's-get-it-on jersey.
Shortly after Roman left the interview tent, the 49ers sent out an email declaring Smith "questionable," which I take as 50-50, although I believe he will play. More on that in a moment. Leading up to the game, Kaepernick has gotten more practice reps than he usually does and Smith has gotten fewer. Roman admitted this. He said Smith got enough reps if he gets cleared to play. Smith still needs to pass neurological protocols, which he had not passed as I write this column. And he needs to go through a final "contact" drill to determine his game-readiness.
Joe Staley, who's undergone the concussion protocol, explained that the contact phase of the tests can happen up until game time.
Cohn: "What's a contact test?"
Staley: "For me, I just basically had to bang against another person with my helmet. Quarterbacks would probably be different. Their job doesn't consist of banging helmets with someone."
Cohn: "How long did your contact test last?"
Staley: "A minute, a few minutes."
Which means, if and when Smith passes all the doctor tests, someone will take him aside and smack his helmet or something like that, and he'll trot into the huddle to do business.
This is not a will-he-or-will-he-not-play column. We will know the answer to that conundrum shortly. This column analyzes both possibilities — Smith plays or doesn't play — and what the implications are for him and his career.
Make no mistake. There are big implications and, although the team won't admit it and Smith certainly won't admit it, he could be at the crossroads, at a serious juncture of his up-and-down, highly controversial life with the 49ers.
The best scenario for Smith is obvious. He plays and he murders the Bears and he reminds everyone of Joe Montana, and no one doubts him ever again. If he does that, I, for one, will give him a mondo atta boy.
There are other possibilities, not as joyful, and this is where the stakes rise for Smith.
BAD SCENARIO NO. 1 FOR SMITH:
Smith does not play. This is the most dangerous scenario from his point of view. It gives Kaepernick the chance to start and defeat an elite defense, a defense that would give Smith enormous trouble.
If Kaepernick has a great game — admittedly a hypothetical assumption — the transition from Smith to him could happen in the twinkling of an eye. Jim Harbaugh could say Smith still is woozy and the team doesn't want to risk further injury, or Harbaugh could say Kaepernick did well and the team doesn't want to disrupt a winning chemistry, and Harbaugh could say Alex Smith is a team player and wholeheartedly applauds the change at quarterback.