SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Colin Kaepernick’s every move is scrutinized now that he has reached rock-star status as a third-year quarterback with the NFL’s top-selling jersey.
He showed up for Day 1 of training camp Thursday sporting a black beanie hat and large red headphones hanging from his neck, insisting he is unaffected by it all.
The hype isn’t going away anytime soon.
“There’s just more opportunities to do things. For the most part for me, I’m worried about playing football,” Kaepernick said ahead of the team’s first full-squad practice. “I’m worried about making sure I’m ready to go on the field and perform.”
Once on the field, he performed squats between snaps and chatted up running back Frank Gore. On one third-and-10, Kaepernick connected with A.J. Jenkins, who caught the ball over his shoulder along the left sideline and stayed inbounds for about a 12-yard gain — general manager Trent Baalke on the sidelines watching.
In six short months since losing in the waning moments of the Super Bowl, Kaepernick has, among other things, appeared unclothed on the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s “The Body Issue.” And Kaepernick caused quite a stir by wearing a Miami cap.
He fully expects plenty of grief from teammates as he begins his first training camp as the guy under center.
“I haven’t had anything real bad yet, so I feel like they’re plotting on me right now,” Kaepernick said with a smile.
The 25-year-old Kaepernick has been fueled by coming so close to the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl championship in February, a 34-31 loss to Baltimore. The Niners missed three chances from the 5-yard line, yet Kaepernick is quick to point to a mistake-filled first half.
Coach Jim Harbaugh’s forward-focused message has been clear: “If you’re still talking about what you did yesterday, you haven’t done much today.”
Kaepernick is determined to be that much better in his first full season as starter for the two-time NFC West champions, who expect a big challenge in the division from Seattle and St. Louis. The 49ers are ready for Kaepernick to lead them back to the big stage.
“Kaep is a diverse guy. And the coaches love him. The players love him. It’s unique in that way, maybe for a quarterback, you don’t always see that. I see that with Kaep,” said Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback himself. “He’s universally respected in that locker room and loved by his teammates. And guess I see that from the 25-to-35 demographic, too, that are buying jerseys. So people relate to him. They like his company, they like being around him.”
Kaepernick backed up Harbaugh’s switch to him from now-Chiefs QB Alex Smith last November by taking the 49ers to the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years, showing his dynamic ability and versatility immediately.
A 2011 second-round pick out of Nevada, the speedy, strong-armed Kaepernick was 7-3 as a starter last season with 1,814 yards passing, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. He rushed for a record 181 yards with a 56-yard touchdown in the divisional playoffs against Green Bay, longest in franchise history by a quarterback.
Kaepernick’s work ethic and talent earned him the trust of his teammates, many of whom are already approaching him as their leader.
“When we’re here doing our minicamp stuff, he’s here at 6, 7 in the morning running 200s for seemingly no reason,” wideout Kyle Williams said. “He knows how to prepare himself. Guys respect that. And he wins, and he plays well, so obviously guys are going to be in his corner. He’s not one of those guys who’s gotten success and wants to relax. He wants to go harder.”
Defensive tackle Justin Smith is eager to watch Kaepernick make further strides — and said the defense will do its part.
“He got the opportunity last year, went out there and ran with it,” Smith said. “Now he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the league. He seized the moment and it seems he’s still doing that, working his tail off, leading by example and showing other young guys how to do it. It’s pretty cool to watch it from the beginning. It’s good to have a dynamic threat like Kaepernick on your side as opposed to chasing after him all the time.”
Notes: S Donte Whitner said he spoke with Harbaugh on Wednesday and the coach told him he hopes a new contract gets done. Harbaugh offered this twist on his catchphrase: “Who do I respect more than Donte Whitner? No-body!” ... The 49ers activated LB Darius Fleming and Williams from the active/physically unable to perform list. ... WR Michael Crabtree, recovering from surgery on his torn right Achilles tendon, was placed on the active/PUP list. DT Lamar Divens, allegedly hit on the head with a beer bottle last month by teammate Ahmad Brooks, was placed on the active non-football injury list and worked out on the side field. ... Smith said he is ready to return at full strength after undergoing surgery on his partially torn left triceps after the Super Bowl. “It’s here now, 100 percent,” he said.