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Former Ute QB Alex Smith loses starting position on 49ers despite clearance from concussion

Published: Thursday, Nov. 29 2012 2:00 p.m. MST

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith (11) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) warm up before an NFL football game at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Gerald Herbert, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Talk about adding insult to injury.

San Francisco 49er quarterback Alex Smith has recovered from a concussion injury, but he won't be reclaiming his spot as the team's starting quarterback.

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh announced as much Wednesday, saying he is starting Colin Kaepernick in this Sunday's game against the Saint Louis Rams despite the fact that Smith is fully ready to play again.

As one of Smith's teammates pointed out after the 49ers' win over the Saints last weekend, the ex-Ute quarterback is understandably disappointed about the situation.

"He’s itching to play, and he feels he should be out there, but it’s the coach’s decision. That’s the way he’s handling it," teammate Joe Staley said last Sunday. "I know it’s eating him up inside, but I know Alex, the kind of man he is, the kind of character he has, and he wants to see the team win. But he wants to be out there on the field."

Harbaugh did say Kaepernick won't necessarily be the starting quarterback for the rest of the season.

"(Alex) definitely didn't lose his job," tight end Delanie Walker said. "Kap is just playing well, so that's what I think you're seeing right now. A lot of guys on offense are feeding off it. So we're just going to go with Kap until Jim Harbaugh decides otherwise."

Kaepernick filled in for Smith when he suffered a concussion two weeks ago in the first half against the Saint Louis Rams. He soundly beat the Chicago Bears while Smith was still recovering, but then was surprisingly called upon last week to lead the 49ers to a 31-21 victory over the New Orleans Saints despite Smith being medically cleared.

Harbaugh says his decision to continue starting Kaepernick was based on him having the "hot hand."

Regardless of the reasoning behind the reigning NFL Coach of the Year's choice, however, the fact of the matter remains Smith was the starting quarterback before his injury — a concussion no less, which is an inury the NFL has recently become very strict about dealing with — and now he's not.

Before the concussion, Smith led San Francisco to a 6-2 record and a 104 quarterback rating.

It's not often a starting quarterback loses his starting spot after completing 70 percent of his passes, but that's the cruel reality for Smith.

This situation also puts a spotlight on concussions in the National Football League. ESPN reports that Smith could have easily kept himself in the game two weeks ago despite his blurred vision — and therefore not lost his starting position.

Concussions are not taken lightly in the NFL, as the rules require a concussed player to leave the field for the locker room immediately. Then there is a long, grueling process to be cleared for full contact in practice and game play.

Smith's honesty about his concussion may have permanently cost him his starting quarterback job, which in turn could end up ultimately costing him "millions of dollars," NBC Sports pointed out. All of which brings up a worry in the NFL regarding players being tempted to hide head injuries in order to protect their current positions on their respective teams, NBC Sports said.

For his part, ESPN writer Mike Sando commended Smith for reporting the concussion, saying he made the right decision for his health and his family.

Whitney O'Bannon is currently a new media sports intern for the Deseret News.

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