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Around the NFC West: Alex Smith debate

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat thinks 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke disagree about whether to bring back Alex Smith for the 2011 season. My take: Harbaugh, whose job is to win in the short term, sees Smith as the best option available to him right now, and an intriguing prospect. He sees a talented player who hasn't reached his potential for a variety of reasons, and he has confidence in his own ability to get the most from a quarterback eager to learn. Harbaugh hit it off with Smith early in the offseason and doesn't have six years of disappointments coloring his assessment. Baalke, whose job is to formulate strategy for the long term, realizes the team cannot bank on Smith as any sort of long-term answer at the position. He would prefer, ideally, to move on from a failed experiment. But he also realizes the team doesn't have any better options at the moment, and if Harbaugh thinks Smith has some potential, Baalke certainly isn't going to rule out Smith for the 2011 season. I would expect the 49ers to draft a quarterback and then try to re-sign Smith or acquire another veteran.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Jim Harbaugh was happy to get onto the practice field in a coaching capacity, even if 49ers players could not be there with him. Stanford fullback Owen Marecic: "You could see he was just excited to be coaching somebody again. don't think he's done this since we played in the Orange Bowl. This is how he always is. Very energetic, very excited about what he does. That's what makes him a great coach."

From Eric Branch: The 49ers extended an "olive branch" to quarterback Alex Smith before the lockout. Now, Smith must decide what he wants to do.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says 49ers general manager Trent Baalke wants Smith "in the mix" as the team puts together its roster of quarterbacks for the 2011 season.

Also from Maiocco: Running backs Shane Vereen and Roy Helu highlight the 49ers' local pro day.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News does not think the 49ers will select a quarterback with the seventh overall choice. Kawakami: "I think the 49ers will take LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukumara or North Carolina pass rusher Robert Quinn, or they will trade down. And they will get their hand-picked Harbaugh quarterback at a later point." That seems reasonable.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic has this to say about the Cardinals possibly selecting Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert with the fifth overall choice: "If Gabbert fails at the NFL level, it won't be because of a poor work ethic. By all reports, he's smart, loves the game and is willing to put in the time. But like Newton, he was antsy when pressured in college and wasn't always accurate. He doesn't have the college track record of Sam Bradford, the first pick in 2010. Gabbert has the tools to succeed, but it's a gamble taking him at No. 5. Look for the Cardinals to pass." I'll have more thoughts on Gabbert and the Cardinals during our weekly Draft Watch feature, which runs later Thursday. I tend to agree with Somers, but wonder if the team could truly pass on Gabbert if there wasn't another obvious selection to make with the fifth pick. As much as the Cardinals cannot afford to take undue risk at quarterback, there's also a point at which it's tough to risk not addressing the position sufficiently. A team cannot bank on picking first overall when a safer prospect is available.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says picking later than in recent seasons opens the Rams to much longer list of potential scenarios in the first round of the 2011 draft. General manager Billy Devaney: "We're going to take the same approach we've taken in years past: pick the best player available. And we're going to let our board drive us to that player, take us there. I'll bet you every scout, every coach, anybody that's looking at tape, I think the work is the same. Where it's different is the number of scenarios. When you're at two or three or top five, conventional wisdom says you only have to evaluate, or be ready for, five possible (players). Here, it's 14; it's a little bit different. And then you've got all the things that go with it: going up, going down, taking a player there." Sam Bradford arguably was not the best player available. Ndamukong Suh was better, I would say, but the Rams' need for a quarterback and the far greater value of the position made selecting Bradford the right choice.

Also from Thomas: a look at some of the local prospects attending a Rams pro day.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch does not envision the Rams selecting running back Mark Ingram in the first round. Burwell: "It’s hard to imagine that a team with so many other higher-priority needs would use the first-round pick on a running back, even one as talented as Ingram. With needs at wide receiver, linebacker and interior offensive line, it seems more likely that any Ingram conversation is a misdirection."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com sizes up offensive linemen in the 2011 draft.

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle offers thoughts on the Seahawks' schedule for 2011. Huard sees some positives, but also some drawbacks: "On the flip side are consecutive road games to begin the season and the second most frequent flyer miles (26,918) in the league, behind only San Francisco’s 29,196 miles. Going to Pittsburgh, to the Giants and then playing the Falcons at home in the first five weeks will be a daunting challenge before the bye week in early October. ... I wouldn’t trade places with Arizona or St. Louis and give back that playoff victory and NFC West crown of last season; however, the Hawks better find some impact starters in the upcoming draft, and hope they can start spending some of Paul Allen’s money on the free agents they will need to improve on the eight wins from season ago."