SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Colin Kaepernick has never sought attention at San Francisco 49ers headquarters. He always praises starter Alex Smith, keeps his answers short and simple, and deflects everything back to the team.
In other words, what a backup quarterback should do.
So when Kaepernick stepped to the lectern Tuesday, the second-year quarterback out of Nevada stayed mostly on script — with one major exception. Kaepernick made it clear he has no desire to be a career backup, outlining his goals this year in the most expansive comments he's ever offered.
"To go and show that I can be a starter in this league," Kaepernick said. "I want to go out, perform my best and show everybody what I'm capable of."
All the 49ers faithful are still waiting to see what that might be.
So long as Smith stays healthy and keeps San Francisco (No. 4 in the AP Pro32) on schedule for another playoff appearance, it's doubtful that Kaepernick sees any meaningful minutes again this season. Kaepernick's best chance to shine figures to start Friday night when the 49ers host the Minnesota Vikings (No. 29) in the preseason opener for both teams.
"Colin, specifically, he needs that work," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "It's been a long time since he's played in game action. Kind of liken it to a golfer who does nothing but play the same course over and over and over again. That's kind of what practice can be like for a quarterback. They're getting a lot out of practice, practice tempo and things of that nature. But there's something about playing the games that makes them advance even further."
At least for now, Kaepernick's career has stalled.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder is the only player in college football history with three seasons in which he passed for at least 2,000 yards and ran for at least 1,000. The production came while playing in Nevada's Pistol offense, which never really required him to take snaps from under center, and tossing passes from different arm angles in a habit the former pitcher is still trying to break.
The transition to Harbaugh's complex version of the West Coast offense only became more difficult with last year's lockout wiping away offseason workouts and turning training camp into a speed race. Kaepernick was swamped just trying to grasp the schemes, formations and terminology — much less complete passes — and often looked lost.
"I definitely wasn't as prepared as I would've liked to be last year," he said. "But you have to deal with the situation we had to deal with. With the lockout, we went out there and did the best we could."
All Kaepernick seemed to do as a rookie in the preseason was give Harbaugh headaches.
In his first possession as an NFL quarterback, the blitz-happy New Orleans Saints sacked Kaepernick three straight times to end the drive. He finished the preseason with a 23.9 passer rating — lowest among the 80 quarterbacks who threw at least 20 passes — while completing 24 of 50 passes for 257 yards, five interceptions and no touchdowns.
His final stat line in the regular season: 3 for 5 passing for 35 yards in three games. He also lost 2 yards on two carries.
"I don't think he was overwhelmed," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "I think he was grinding through it, might be a better way to put it. It was a completely different offense, playing under center for the first time with a new group of players who you really haven't played with before. Definitely, there's a curve there."
The lack of playing time hasn't helped.
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