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Young QBs Eager for Second Season

Posted Jul 24, 2012

The 49ers quarterbacks haven’t renewed their competitive racquetball series with coach Jim Harbaugh this offseason. They’ve been too busy reading their playbooks and working on the football field.

All four of San Francisco’s signal callers – Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Josh Johnson and Scott Tolzien – have made early appearances to team headquarters and the 49ers coach has previously said all four are poised for long careers in the NFL.

While Smith’s role as the team’s starting quarterback has been cemented after leading his team to the doorstep of the Super Bowl last season, that hasn’t deterred any competition within the position group.

Enter second-year signal callers Kaepernick and Tolzien, both eager to ascend up the depth chart once training camp officially begins.

“I don’t want to speak for all four of us, but I’m pretty sure that we’d all say the same thing,” Tolzien said as one of the team’s select veterans already in camp. “Individually, we’re all working to be the starter, because you’d be cheating yourself if you weren’t.  As a team, you’re just working to get better each day and helping out guys at your position group and helping out guys at every other position because we all have the same objective.”

New rules in the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement limited quarterbacks from throwing to receivers at team facilities this offseason, but Kaepernick got creative and used a nearby park to throw to wideouts in his free time. He’s also formed a bond with second-round pick LaMichael James, inviting him over to his house to go over the playbook.

Kaepernick and James both played in creative, option-heavy offenses at their respective colleges of Nevada and Oregon. Under the guidance of 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, they’ll be getting a heavy dose of innovative play-calling again in 2012.

On the physical side of things, Kaepernick said he’s focused on his improving his footwork in the pocket and on the run. Following his 14-year career as an NFL quarterback, Harbaugh has given his quarterbacks a good dose of hands-on attention in practice.

“He’s just trying to clean our footwork up to make it as efficient as possible,” Kaepernick said. “So when we’re out there, we can get through our reads quicker and get the balls out of our hands.”

The athletic, second-year quarterback has garnered praise for his ability to improvise on the run and make plays, but Kaepernick also prides himself on his ability to stand tall in the pocket and make quality throws.

“I think I’m very good at both,” Kaepernick said. “It just depends on the play call and what I have to do on that play.”

Johnson came to the 49ers due in large part to his previous ties with Harbaugh, who coached him at the University of San Diego. It turns out Kaepernick and Johnson also worked together with quarterbacks coach Roger Theder during Kaepernick’s high school days. Johnson, an Oakland native, and Kaepernick, of Turlock, would meet with Theder in the Bay Area on weekends to work on their mechanics.

“Josh is a great guy,” Kaepernick said. “I’m good friends with him, but at the same time, we know it’s a competition when we step on the field.”

Kaepernick, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound quarterback, played sparingly in his first season with the 49ers, but figures to get plenty of snaps throughout the team’s upcoming preseason schedule. In all, Kaepernick appeared in three games during his rookie year, going 3-of-5 for 35 yards.

For now, Kaepernick’s focus has been on the mental development of the game, as he’s had an entire offseason to digest Roman’s offense.

“It’s just refreshing your memory and getting back to playing 11-on-11 football,” Kaepernick said. “It’s really just getting back into the feel of things.”

Tolzien, meanwhile, enters his first training camp with the 49ers. He spent the entire 2011 camp with the Chargers before performing well against San Francisco in the final preseason game (16-of-23 for 226 yards, one touchdown and one interception) and being signed by the 49ers just days later.

The University of Wisconsin product didn’t see any game action in the regular season but proved to be a crucial part of the team’s practice squad throughout the year. That’s not stopping him from trying to carve out a spot for himself on the 2012 49ers.

“For all of us rookies last year, it was kind of scramble mode at the last minute to try and piece the whole thing together,” Tolzien said. “So it’s nice to have a summer full of (organized team activities) and get in a comfort zone with your teammates, your coaches, the playbook and the daily schedule.”

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