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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - NOVEMBER 11: Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers gets hit by linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar #52 of the St. Louis Rams during a run in the first quarter on November 11, 2012 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
It’s too soon to know whether 49ers quarterback Alex Smith will be able to play Monday night against the Bears.
But it’s never too soon for speculation to begin bouncing around fan sites, talk radio and the media about whether Colin Kaepernick is destined to supplant Smith as the Niners’ No. 1 quarterback.
Smith, who suffered a concussion in the first half of Sunday’s 24-24 tie with the Rams at Candlestick Park, reportedly went through some tests with an independent neurologist Monday, and is now seeking a second opinion from another doctor, according to Pro Football Talk.
Per the NFL’s post-concussion protocol, Smith will need to be cleared by doctors before being allowed to resume practice and possibly play in the Monday night matchup with Chicago.
Already, some are suggesting that if Smith were to be sidelined – allowing Kaepernick an opportunity to play – that it could be the beginning of the end for him as the 49ers QB.
Wrote Mike Florio, of Pro Football Talk: “Smith has every reason to try to get back on the field. If Smith doesn’t play and if Colin Kaepernick plays well on a national stage, Alex Smith could be the sports world’s next Wally Pipp.”
Pipp, of course, was the New York Yankees first baseman who had to leave the lineup one day, only to be supplanted by a young Lou Gehrig. Pipp never started another game at first for New York.
Since the 49ers drafted Kaepernick out of the University of Nevada in the second round in 2011, the thinking has been that the athletic quarterback – an exceptional runner with a strong arm – was the heir apparent at the position.
But then Smith had the best season of his career and led his team to the NFC West championship, a 13-3 regular-season record and came within a win of going to the Super Bowl.
This season, too, Smith leads a team that is 6-2-1 and considered one of the NFC’s best.
Yet when Kaepernick relieved Smith against the Rams, he flashed his upside, picking up big gains with his feet and connecting with his receivers in the second half while leading San Francisco to a tying field goal at the end of regulation.
If Smith can’t play Monday, and Kaepernick plays well, what then?
That question was asked of the Sacramento Bee’s 49ers beat writer, Matt Barrows, this week by a reader, and Barrows discounted speculation – for now – that Kaepernick is poised to take Smith’s job.
Barrows noted that the 49ers re-signed Smith after last season and have a commitment to him, but said it’s obvious that if Smith is out for an extended period and Kaepernick plays exceptionally well in his absence, “it will create a quarterback controversy” and force the team to make a decision in the offseason as to which direction to go. Barrows says the Niners would have to make such a decision by April 1, 2013, when the team would have to pay Smith $7.5 million if he’s on the roster.
However, says Barrows, he doesn’t believe it will come to that because he doesn’t believe Smith will be out for long and Kaepernick is a young, untested QB who’s unlikely to play at a high level for a long period.
“I think Kaepernick’s outings if Smith were out for a while would be up and down – like they would be for any young quarterback,” Barrows wrote.
As he looks forward, he sees Smith at No. 1, Kaepernick at No. 2 (and waiting) and both on the 49ers again next season.
Also, consider this: The last time Smith suffered a concussion, against the Cowboys in Game No. 2 of the 2011 season, he was cleared to play for the next game. The same thing could happen this week, too.
And, when Smith has been healthy this season, he’s been effective. He’s completed 70 percent of his passes for 1,731 yards and 13 TDs vs. just five interceptions for a 104.0 passer rating – which puts him No. 3 in the NFL behind only Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers.