"He's a neat guy. I'm really interested in him, in just the character of Alex Smith," Harbaugh said during a guest appearance in the San Diego Padres' broadcast booth during Sunday's game against the Washington Nationals. "He's been maligned by the hometown fans there. And his family's had to read a lot of that on the Internet.
"And he's really even been thrown under the bus by his own team more than once. And the kind of character of a guy that would want to come back, prove himself with that same football team, that's rare kind of character. (It) probably falls somewhere in the endangered and extinct range. So we can win with that."
Harbaugh has stated several times this offseason that he'd like the 49ers to re-sign Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft who has struggled with injuries and inconsistency during his first six seasons with the team..
"Itâs well documented, on record, that we very much want Alex Smith to be a 49er next year," Harbaugh told NFL Networkâs Fran Charles in May. "He really is a 49er in my mind, and hopefully in his mind he is a 49er. We look forward to him competing for that starting quarterback position next year."
After leading last week's four-day Niners minicamp, nicknamed "Camp Alex," Smith told reporters he "absolutely" expects to start in San Francisco this season, but acknowledges he's got work left to do.
"I got more to prove than ever," Smith said. "For myself, for my teammates, for everyone, I just think I know I can play this game at a high level. And I haven't done it consistently yet. I'm determined to do so."
Harbaugh believes he'll be working with his crop of quarterbacks sooner than some would think, predicting that the NFL lockout will end in early July, in time for training camp and a full slate of preseason games.
"I choose to be optimistic," Harbaugh said. "And I really think early July there's a chance a deal is done. That's kind of what I'm planning for.
"If they can get a deal done in July, right now we're scheduled to go to training camp on July 28. So if we go to training camp on the 28th, we'll get the whole exhibition season in."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.