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Paul Sakuma, Associated Press
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith runs drills during NFL football training camp Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, in Santa Clara, Calif. Smith is back with the 49ers for a final shot under new coach Jim Harbaugh, a scenario even the 2005 No. 1 overall pick himself would have had a tough time envisioning after last season. This was his first practice with the team after signing as a free agent.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Alex Smith gently cradled the football in his right arm as he waited his turn to throw — getting going on the field at last, yet another fresh start with his only NFL team.

Smith is back behind center for the San Francisco 49ers, seven months after this scenario seemed like such a longshot for the 2005 No. 1 overall pick out of Utah.

The embattled quarterback had been booed and benched, cheered and promoted once more. Smith stuck in there when many hoped he would just be gone.

New coach Jim Harbaugh wanted him back to be the starting quarterback in a new regime. General manager Trent Baalke was willing to take one last shot on Smith, too.

And with the NFL lockout, the QB decided his safest bet was to stay put with the one franchise he knows.

The 27-year-old Smith, a new father with a new energy for football under Harbaugh's guidance, practiced for the first time Thursday night after signing a $5 million, one-year deal as a free agent last week.