A day after drafting his quarterback of the future, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh made his strongest commitment yet to Alex Smith as the quarterback of the present.
"I strongly feel Alex will be back here," Harbaugh said Saturday.
Harbaugh and Smith met for more than a half-hour Friday, and the coach emerged so confident about Smith's return that he gave him a copy of the playbook. That's an unusual move for an impending free agent.
"There's some trust there, there's some faith there," Harbaugh acknowledged.
Almost since the day he was hired, Harbaugh has publicly campaigned for the return of the oft-maligned former No. 1 pick. Smith has yet to live up to expectations during his first six seasons with the 49ers, but Harbaugh envisions better days ahead.
There was no change in that sentiment after the 49ers used their second-round pick Friday on Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick. As high as Harbaugh is on Kaepernick's long-term potential, he said Smith would have a "head start" in a hypothetical training-camp competition for the starting job.
"If I'm a betting man, then I'm betting on Alex Smith," Harbaugh said.
Smith, 26, cannot sign a contract until the NFL labor dispute is resolved. The 49ers have a one-year contract on the table whenever the CBA allows teams to sign free agents.
Smith's departure looked like a foregone conclusion when fans booed Smith during the finale of another disappointing season. But Harbaugh's consistent, glowing praise has helped restore a welcoming atmosphere.
Asked about extending an olive branch, Harbaugh responded:
"Alex Smith's a 49er. There's no olive branch to be extended."
— With their first pick of the day Saturday, the 49ers found themselves a real sleeper: Running back Kendall Hunter likes to nod off before games.
"A little 10-minute nap before every game makes me relaxed," he explained. "When I wake up, I'm just ready to play."
Hunter, the 5-foot-7, 199-pound running back from Oklahoma State, highlighted the 49ers' 10 picks over the final four rounds.
The 49ers nabbed him in the fourth round in hopes that Hunter can emerge as a complementary back to starter Frank Gore. Because of Hunter's size, scouts envision him as a change-of-pace runner rather than an every-down player. General manager Trent Baalke disagrees, as does the player himself.
"People have always doubted me, saying I can't do this or that because of my size," Hunter said in a conference call with Bay Area reporters. "I play every game with a chip on my shoulder. I use it as motivation."
Hunter became the third Oklahoma State back to rush for 1,500 yards in a season twice. He did it in 2008 and '10. In between, he appeared in only eight games because of a stress fracture in his ankle.
— Daniel Kilgore played everywhere but center during his career at Appalachian State. So where does he fit in the NFL? "They're looking at me for center," Kilgore said by phone from Boone, N.C.
Listed at 6-foot-3, 308 pounds, Kilgore was a center in high school for a spread offense heavy on shotgun snaps. He said he'd be comfortable playing the position again in the NFL.
— He started 13 games at left tackle for Appalachian State last season, anchoring a line that allowed only eight sacks.
Kilgore's self-scouting report: "I'm an athletic offensive lineman. I have quick feet. That's very important, to be able to move around well."
Baalke said Kilgore and seventh-round pick Mike Person (Montana State) provide depth and flexibility.
"If you're going to be a backup lineman in the NFL, you need to have position versatility," Baalke said.
— Speaking of versatility, the 49ers plan a career change for Central Florida defensive end Bruce Miller. The former Conference USA defensive player of the year will switch to fullback in the NFL.
It's a position he's never played, although he played some tight end in high school. Miller said he fared well in several predraft workouts at fullback.
"The mentality as a football player is to run and hit and to make plays," he said. "I feel like I can bring those same things to the offensive side of the ball."
— Sixth-round pick wide receiver Ronald Johnson starred at USC, so Harbaugh was asked if he had any memories of playing against him at Stanford. "Yeah, bad ones," Harbaugh joked.
Johnson could make his mark on special teams. He was a second-team all Pac-10 selection as a punt returner.
— Special-teams ability played a key role in several selections, Baalke said. That included TCU safety Colin Jones (sixth round, No. 190 overall) who ran a 4.34 time in the 40 at his Pro Day.
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