Although Alex Smith has established himself as the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback, Friday's preseason opener against Minnesota provides an opportunity for backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick to show he's capable of performing when needed.
Kaepernick has been the team's No. 2 quarterback in camp, and he has a clear idea of what he wants to demonstrate.
"To show that I can be a starter in this league," Kaepernick said Tuesday. "I want to go out, perform my best, and show everybody what I'm capable of."
Kaepernick had a lot to learn last year as an NFL rookie coming out of Nevada, where he ran a lot of option out of a spread offense. He had never even taken a snap from under center at Nevada, which ran the pistol offense, so even that was an adjustment. Plus, the 49ers' play book is "a lot bigger" than what Kaepernick dealt with in college. He said the size of the play book was probably the biggest challenge.
"I definitely wasn't as prepared as I would have liked to be," he said, "but you have to deal with the situation we were dealt with."
Not only was Kaepernick trying to learn a new system that was significantly different from what he ran in college, but last year's lockout gave him even less time to prepare for his first pro season.
"I don't think he was overwhelmed," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "I think he was grinding through it. It was a completely different offense. Playing under center for the first time. It was a new group of players that he'd never played with before. There's a curve there."
In his first preseason game last season, Kaepernick was 9-for-19 with two interceptions and was sacked seven times by the Saints, who blitzed more often than teams usually do in the preseason.
He played in just three regular season games and never when it counted, completing 3 of 5 passes for 15 yards.
"Having had a season under his belt approaching this preseason, to go in and play with confidence, know what he's doing, know what he's seeing. I think it'll be a really good opportunity for him to show us what he can do," Roman said.
Kaepernick feels he's better prepared this time.
"I think that's where I've made the biggest strides in the last year," Kaepernick said. "Knowing what we're trying to get done on each play."
Kaepernick needs to perform well to hang on to his status as the No. 2 quarterback, because Josh Johnson will be given playing time in the preseason to show what they can do.
It's unclear whether wide receiver Michael Crabtree will be available Friday.
"Not going to comment on that," Roman said. "He's working through something and we'll have to wait and see and evaluate it. It'll probably be a last minute decision."
One player who will see action is second-year running back Kendall Hunter, and coach Jim Harbaugh has been complimentary about Hunter's work in preseason camp.
"Kendall, the first thing that comes to my mind when I hear Kendall Hunter's name is football player," Roman said. "He loves football. He loves to get out there and compete, he enjoys it. He always gives his maximum effort. I've never seen Kendall Hunter have a bad day, or a bad snap where he wasn't totally tuned into football. I just think a lot like Kap [Colin Kaepernick], we were talking about earlier, Kendall came from a spread option type of offense at Okie State [Oklahoma State]. Now, he had a very nice year last year for us. He's really starting to understand all the different things that go into playing running back in this league, which is more than just carrying the ball. It's pass protection, route running, catching the ball, ball security, which he's been very good at, and the special teams aspect of things as well. Kendall's just becoming a more well-rounded football player. We're really glad we have him. Kendall is a heck of a football player who gets better every day."