49ers defense eager to face new Chiefs QB
By JANIE McCAULEY
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Over all those years and thousands of practice snaps, the stingy San Francisco defense never got to put a hit on Alex Smith.
And this is a group known for its vicious blows, from sack man Aldon Smith at linebacker to pounding safety Donte Whitner.
So, no surprise Smith's former teammates on the opposite side of the ball will be salivating to finally chase down the quarterback when they face him and the Chiefs in a preseason game at Kansas City on Friday night.
"There's a first time for everything," linebacker NaVorro Bowman said, smiling. "We never got a chance to hit him. This time we can. We're looking forward to it. I know Alex knows we're coming. It's football, man. He's on another team and we have to go out there and play our game."
Cornerback Carlos Rogers plans to talk trash -- because, he insists, Smith will certainly be expecting it from this group.
"He'll probably come after me because we were always talking junk during practices while he was here. I'm going to take a look at the film and see what we can come up with," Rogers said. "It will be really fun. I'm pretty sure he's going to be talking junk. He's going to want to go at our defense because now he gets the opportunity. When he was here we didn't really go against the 1 offense unless it was training camp."
Smith has begun anew in the AFC with the Chiefs after being traded in March. He lost his starting job with San Francisco in November to Colin Kaepernick.
Smith certainly sounds as if he will leave the personal ties out of it Friday -- rather focusing on preparing his offense with a matchup against one of the NFL's top defenses in recent years.
"Regardless of the fact that I used to play there, they're a good defensive unit," he said "They're a really good defensive unit, and they'll be a good test for us. I mean, they don't have many weaknesses on that side of the ball. It'll be a really good test for us."
49ers defensive line coach Jim Tomsula insists the razzing by his defenders is all in good fun. Tomsula started Smith for the regular season finale in 2010 in Tomsula's lone game as interim head coach following the firing of Mike Singletary.
"They're throwing that out there. That's an inside joke to Alex," Tomsula said. "They all just like him so much, they really do. It's a good banter, is what it is."
Given Smith's long history with the 49ers, an up-and-down, eight-year tenure -- filled with numerous promotions and demotions, not to mention injuries -- after they selected him with the No. 1 draft pick out of Utah in 2005, he still has many supporters in his old locker room.
Running back Frank Gore is rooting for him, tight end Vernon Davis, too. And Kaepernick, of course.
They have spoken a couple of times during the offseason, though Kaepernick declined to elaborate.
"He did a lot for me, Alex was someone that really helped me pick up the playbook, understand what we were trying to get done and how we wanted to do it," Kaepernick said Wednesday. "I wouldn't be as far along as I am right now without him. Personally, he's a great guy, he's a class act. I have nothing bad to say about him. He's always helped me, he's always put the team first."
It was Smith who took it upon himself to lead San Francisco's players in workouts at nearby San Jose State during the 2011 NFL lockout that became known as "Camp Alex," a step in his leadership that put the team in position to end a franchise-worst stretch of eight seasons without a playoff berth or winning record. After all those boos from his own fans during the struggles, he had made good at last.
For his example, and so many other things, coach Jim Harbaugh is grateful to this day. Even if he made the tough choice to go with Kaepernick for last season's stretch run. Smith largely thrived under the direction of Harbaugh, a 15-year NFL quarterback himself.
"It's personal with Alex. It probably is different in that way," Harbaugh said. "Feel like there's a great friendship there and a lot of history. He's a unique person. A very good, in all ways, a good friend. No longer on our team. Not a trusted agent anymore."
Come Friday, both sides will try to keep all the mixed emotions off the field. Though the history will clearly provide some preseason fuel.
"Now we'll get a chance to hit him," Rogers said. "He had on the jersey and we couldn't touch the quarterback, so I'm pretty sure our D-line will be happy about that, too."
Notes: A day after safeties C.J. Spillman and Michael Thomas fought during practice and Spillman sent to the locker room, Harbaugh said he has handled the altercation. "I think that's something that has no place in practice or training camp," Harbaugh said. "Not to go into what the policy is right now as it's happened. It's been addressed." He wouldn't say whether they would play against the Chiefs. ... Harbaugh has "a list of eight or nine guys" he said won't travel to Kansas City, though he wouldn't say who they are other than that LT Joe Staley is likely on there. Staley returned to practice after missing four days with an undisclosed injury.