Harbaugh full of praise for Alex Smith

Dec 21 2011 - 7:51pm

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Alex Smith ranks in the middle of the pack this season when it comes to passing yards and his 16 touchdowns are only mediocre.

But Smith's win total is as good as all but one of his competitors', and that's why he's getting one of Jim Harbaugh's votes -- and the coach's endorsement -- for the Pro Bowl. Harbaugh said Tuesday he's going to vote for Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, New Orleans' Drew Brees and Smith.

"That's the low-hanging fruit -- you go right to the yards line or the touchdown passes line," Harbaugh said of statistics like 300-yard games and touchdowns. "I think that people who understand football understand there's a lot more that goes into the job of a quarterback."

Harbaugh also went a step further.

After waxing about Smith's attributes, he was asked if he thought Smith, whose contract is due to expire in March, is the 49ers' long-term answer at quarterback. "I do," he said.

Smith, meanwhile, has said he's built enough trust with Harbaugh and the 49ers' front office to be confident that he can put off contract talks until after the season and still be treated fairly. The 49ers have 16 players, including six starters, who are due to be unrestricted free agents after this season, and Smith is prime among them.

The 49ers also have a number of Pro Bowl candidates.

Kicker David Akers set a single-season club record Monday with 141 points and he needs only two more field goals to tie Neil Rackers for most field goals kicked in an NFL season.

Punter Andy Lee, meanwhile, has the best net average in the league while defensive end Justin Smith and inside linebacker Patrick Willis are the most prominent members of a defense that has allowed the fewest points and rushing yards this season.

Harbaugh on Tuesday called Justin Smith the 49ers' most valuable player.

Rookie linebacker Aldon Smith's team-leading 13 sacks are more than any other rookie in the league. Smith, however, is not on the Pro Bowl ballot because he is not a starter.

The fan portion of the voting ended after Monday's game. Coaches and players will vote this week. The tallies from each group -- fans, coaches and players -- count one-third toward a player's total.

Despite Harbaugh's advocacy and San Francisco's 11-3 record, Smith is a long shot to make his first Pro Bowl. Rodgers and Brees are shoe-ins while other quarterbacks -- New York's Eli Manning, Dallas' Tony Romo and Carolina's Cam Newton - have had more prolific seasons.

Harbaugh's point is that Smith has been the right quarterback for the 49ers, whose success has been built on taking the ball away on defense and being stingy about giving it up on offense.

Smith has thrown only five interceptions this season. Among quarterbacks who have started every game this season, only Rodgers - six interceptions - comes close to that mark. Smith also has lost only two fumbles despite being sacked 39 times.

Other coaches appreciate the value in that style of play.

"He's done a marvelous job of taking care of the football and he's playing championship football," said Seattle coach Pete Carroll, who will face Smith and the 49ers on Saturday. "So I really think he's doing great."

Does that mean Carroll will be jotting down Smith's name this week?

"That comes up (today)," Carroll said. "And I'm not going to reveal my vote at this point."

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