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Edge goes to the 49ers over Bears in the battle of backup quarterbacks

Chicago Bears quarterback JasCampbell throws during fourth quarter Soldier Field Chicago Ill. Sunday November 11 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times

Chicago Bears quarterback Jason Campbell throws during the fourth quarter at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill., on Sunday, November 11, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 15, 2012 6:32AM



On paper, the Bears figure to have the edge in the likely showdown of the backup quarterbacks against the 49ers on Monday night. The Bears’ Jason Campbell has started 75 games in the NFL; the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick has started none, and played in only nine.

But if Jim Harbaugh’s track record is any indication, Kaepernick might be more ready than it appears. Harbaugh has an impressive resume of quarterback nurturing that is close to a golden touch. To wit:

◆ In Harbaugh’s first season as an assistant with the Oakland Raiders, Rich Gannon had the best season of his 17-year NFL career at 37 — throwing for 4,689 yards (his previous best was 3,840 yards), winning the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award and leading the Raiders to the Super Bowl.

◆ When Harbaugh was the head coach at the University of San Diego, Josh Johnson led Division I-AA in passing yards (3,320), total offense (336.7 yards per game) and passing efficiency (169.0). The lightly-recruited Johnson was a fifth-round draft pick in 2008 and played three seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

◆ When Harbaugh was the head coach at Stanford, Andrew Luck became one of the top college quarterbacks in the country. As a redshirt sophomore in 2010, Luck threw 32 touchdown passes, was the Orange Bowl MVP, the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year and runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.

◆ In Harbaugh’s first year with the 49ers, Alex Smith had the best season of what had been a disappointing NFL career since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2005. Smith threw for 3,144 yards, 17 touchdown passes and had a career-best 90.7 passer rating. Smith, who was 21st in the NFL in passer rating the year before Harbaugh arrived (82.1), is third this season (104.1).

In relief of Smith against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, Kaepernick scored on a seven-yard run, drove the 49ers to a tying field goal in the final 1:03 and had the 49ers set up for the victory in overtime before David Akers missed a 41-yard field goal.

Playing the final three quarters, Kaepernick was 11-of-17 for 117 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions and an 84.7 passer rating. He also gained 66 yards and a touchdown on six carries.

Urlacher ‘dumb’ when handling concussions

One factor can’t be overlooked in the NFL’s increasingly problematic battle with concussion prevention and treatment: football players are — in the words of Brian Urlacher — dumb and stupid.

‘‘If I have a concussion these days, I’m going to say something happened to my toe or knee just to get my beatings for a few plays,’’ Urlacher told HBO’s ‘‘Real Sports’’ earlier this year. ‘‘I’m not going to sit there and say I got a concussion — I can’t [play] the rest of the game.’’

The NFL gets criticized for prioritizing winning, ratings and profit over player safety. But attitude’s like Urlacher’s don’t help.

In 2009, the NFL’s updated statement on return-to-play protocol addressed that issue: ‘‘A critical element of managing concussions is candid reporting by players of their symptoms following an injury. Accordingly, players are encouraged to be candid with team medical staffs and fully disclose any signs or symptoms that may be associated with a concussion.’’

‘‘It’s huge. It is the key [factor],’’ said Dr. Jeffery Mjaanes, director of the Chicago Sports Concussion Clinic at Rush Medical Center in Chicago. ‘‘Far and away the most important factor is the athlete telling us what their symptoms are.

‘‘Most of what a concussion involves — headache, dizziness, mental fogginess, trouble concentrating, trouble remembering — things that there’s just no possible way to see that from the outside. You can tell if somebody is unstable and dizzy and throwing up. But other than that, we rely on the athlete to report their symptoms.’’

Unfortunately, football — with its unique combination of aggression, contact and competition — is an addiction that compels athletes to throw caution to the wind almost regardless of the consequences.

‘‘First of all, we love football,’’ Urlacher, who has three young children, said on ‘‘Real Sports’’ when discussing his use of pain-killers and their side-effects. ‘‘We want to be on the field as much as we can be. It may be stupid, it may be dumb — call me dumb and stupid then, because I want to be on the football field.’’



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