Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh talks to the media during an NFL football press conference in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, July 25, 2011.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Colin Kaepernick was adamant about competing for the starting quarterback role in training camp, surmising that the San Francisco 49ers didn't draft him to be a spectator.
Good news for the rookie: He doesn't figure to be much of an observer.
The second-round pick out of Nevada might be the only quarterback on the roster when the Niners hit the practice field for the first time under new coach Jim Harbaugh on Friday, taking all the snaps until Alex Smith and other free agents are allowed to join the team next week.
The quarterback dynamic figures to dominate Harbaugh's first training camp — and likely define his first season — with the 49ers, who wooed him away from Stanford in January to replace the ousted Mike Singletary. Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback, already is facing a tricky scenario at the position.
The first-year NFL coach is the only one on the roster with NFL quarterbacking experience.
"He might step in," Kaepernick said about Harbaugh, chuckling. "We'll see."
San Francisco released the only other signal-calling on the roster Thursday, cutting ties with David Carr after one season. Carr, a former No. 1 overall pick by the Houston Texans, tweeted that he wished the team well and had hoped for an opportunity with the new staff.
Smith and other free agents can't officially sign with teams until Friday and can't participate in practices until the players' union recertifies Aug. 4. The 49ers also could sign an undrafted rookie to ease the burden on Kaepernick during the first week of camp.
That's all part of the challenge for a 49ers team that's playing catch-up with a new coaching staff.
"I'm nervous, I'm worried, and that's part of my job to be that way," Harbaugh said. "Me, personally, it keeps me on my toes, anxious, all those feelings to get started and get going. But that's the good news, we can now start."
Well, not everybody.
Smith has been lauded as the presumed starter by Harbaugh for months, even receiving a playbook in the brief hours the lockout was lifted in April despite being a free agent. He also organized two separate four-day minicamps some dubbed "Camp Alex," where the 2005 No. 1 overall pick taught classroom sessions and ran plays on the field.
All he can do once he signs his one-year deal with the 49ers on Friday is participate in meetings and other non-physical activities. How much of a head start that gives Kaepernick won't be known until the preseason.
"I don't know about leveling the playing field," Kaepernick said. "Alex has about six years on me, so he definitely has a greater knowledge of some of the defenses and schemes and stuff. But, at the same time, I think getting those extra reps will help me develop a lot."
Kaepernick was quick to credit Smith for his guidance in what was an unusual offseason.
comments on this story
He spent the last two days in meetings with Harbaugh and other coaches, and already the rookie believes the time with Smith helped smooth the transition. The two worked out for most of the last two months and split time with Carr during the informal offensive team workouts.
The competition at quarterback figures to be a little less friendly, at least on the field.
"When you come into a situation, you want to be the starting quarterback," Kaepernick said. "I don't feel like I got drafted here to be a spectator. I want to come in, I want to compete and get on the field as soon as possible."