The 24-year-old Kaepernick, who grew up about 100 miles east of San Francisco in Turlock, sat behind Smith while the 2005 No. 1 overall pick turned in the best season of his career and led the 49ers to the NFC championship game. The only work Kaepernick could do during games was listen to the coaches-quarterback radio frequency on a headset, pay attention and go "through the plays just like I was in the games, looking at the defense, seeing where I'd be going with the ball."
Now there's competition just to hold onto that spot.
San Francisco signed Josh Johnson in the offseason, reuniting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' backup with Harbaugh, who first took a chance on the undersized quarterback while he coached at the University of San Diego. Johnson started five games in four seasons with Tampa Bay, completing 96 of 177 passes for 1,042 yards, five touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Scott Tolzien, who spent last year on the 49ers scout team, is also back.
"This is by far the most talented group I've been a part of, as far as top to bottom and depth," Smith said. "Four guys that I really feel like can play at a high level. You just don't see that."
But only one figures to play this season — and for the foreseeable future.
The 49ers flirted with free agent Peyton Manning — who ultimately chose Denver — until settling on Smith with a new three-year deal that has some $16.5 million guaranteed. Smith's snaps will increase through three of the first four preseason games, giving his backups opportunities until the regular season begins against Green Bay at Lambeau Field on Sept. 9.
Harbaugh has remained mum on the quarterback rotation, except that Smith will start and Kaepernick is still his No. 2. Smith likely will not play much — if at all — into the second quarter against the Vikings, leaving Kaepernick and Co. to finally show what they can do against another opponent, knowing there's no guarantee another shot might come anytime soon.
"It's football. That's what it is. At some point, you're going to have to wait your turn to get out on that field," Kaepernick said. "You just have to be ready for when your opportunity comes."
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP
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