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After a flop at San Diego, Singletary turned back to Troy Smith for a must-win game with the Rams on Dec. 26. That 25-17 loss cost the coach his job with one week to go. Jim Tomsula, serving a single-game stint as interim head coach, went with Alex Smith for a win against Arizona in the season finale.

Now, he has to hold onto the starting job this time, with rookie second-round pick Colin Kaepernick right behind and determined to make an immediate impact.

“This is absolutely wide open,” Smith said. “It’s a new coaching staff. They’re evaluating all of us.”

Smith, who took the majority of the snaps with the first-team offense Thursday, has played for a different offensive coordinator each year.

Perhaps he is more well rounded these days.

He welcomed son, Hudson, on May 11. Before training camp began, Smith was as busy handling overnight feedings with the baby as he was learning Harbaugh’s extensive West Coast offense. The coach handed over his playbook to Smith during the spring _ on the one day the lockout was lifted in late April after the draft _ in a sign of good faith that the sides would indeed reach agreement on a new deal.

“I’ve always felt supported here,” Smith said. “Obviously, a new coaching staff and a new way of doing things. We’re jumping in. We’re all aboard.”

It is Smith’s time to prove himself again.

“I think the odds are set on Alex at the moment,” tight end Vernon Davis said. “I don’t think there’s really too much competition at the moment.”

Smith has seen just about everything in six seasons as a pro.

In 2007, he started the entire preseason and the first four games before injuring his throwing shoulder. He sat out the next two games, then tried to return and played three ineffective outings in constant pain. He was sacked seven times in those three games _ all losses _ and that was it. He eventually had surgery in December, well after he wanted to get the procedure, but going on then-coach Mike Nolan’s preferred schedule. Smith missed the entire 2008 campaign.

In October 2009, Smith took over for Shaun Hill and threw for 2,350 yards and 18 touchdowns, but also had 12 interceptions and was sacked 22 times for 134 lost yards.

He insists he has grown and matured through each step forward and each one back through it all.

And if Harbaugh has his way, the former NFL quarterback-turned-coach will be able to bring out the best in Smith, turn the 49ers into a winner again and the rest will all be forgotten.

“It definitely creates a confidence when that guy is in the huddle and has been there before and knows the scheme inside and out,” Harbaugh said. “And he’s a very smart guy.”