SANTA CLARA, Calif (AP) - Two superb practices and Alex Smith has taken a step forward in the competition with rookie Colin Kaepernick for San Francisco's starting quarterback job.
"If you were going by today, yesterday, there's some separation there, and Alex has done a fine job," coach Jim Harbaugh said Tuesday night after practice. "But Kaep is doing a phenomenal job. He is going to be one heck of a talent and one heck of a player."
Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick out of Utah, has been sharp this week - connecting with a handful of different receivers on deep balls while making good decisions in the pocket. All along, he has been the front-runner to begin the year as the starter in Harbaugh's first season as coach.
"It felt better the last few days, kind of getting back in the groove of things, throwing it well, just seeing things well," Smith said. "Still a lot ahead of me but, yeah, I feel I've put a few days together that are pretty decent."
While Harbaugh on Tuesday didn't rule out signing veteran Daunte Culpepper to be a third QB, he said the 49ers would first give some others a look before any decision is made.
Harbaugh said some other quarterbacks also would come in for workouts.
"We're looking. But no differently than we're looking at the waiver wire every day," Harbaugh said. "The right guy, if it's the right fit for our situation here. We worked a guy out and had a good workout. We'll evaluate some other guys and see what the best fit for us is. ... A third quarterback is something we'd like to have. I think if you don't you're rolling the dice a little bit."
On Saturday, Harbaugh said the competition was still open for the QB job - though the incumbent Smith always has been considered the favorite.
Smith is still treating it like the job is open. He knows it's his gig to lose.
He was slightly behind after missing the initial six practices of training camp per the new labor rules for when free agents could start workouts.
"I've been so dug in, I really haven't (noticed separation from Kaepernick)," Smith said. "I've just been focused on me and playing better, stringing together some good plays and good practices. I feel like I've done that."
The 27-year-old Smith threw for 2,370 yards and 14 touchdowns in 11 games and 10 starts last season, but he also threw 10 interceptions and was sacked 25 times. He shared the starting role with Troy Smith.
Smith's return to the 49ers as a free agent surprised many considering he wasn't expected to be back when last season ended with a 6-10 record and an eighth straight year out of the playoffs and without a winning record.
Smith has been getting the majority of reps with the No. 1 offense. Neither he nor Kaepernick were particularly effective in a 24-3 loss at New Orleans in the Niners' exhibition opener last Friday night.
The Niners host the Oakland Raiders on Saturday night at Candlestick Park.
Smith has made pretty deep throws recently to tight end Vernon Davis, newcomer Braylon Edwards and veteran wideouts Joshua Morgan and Ted Ginn Jr.
"I feel great about how the offense is set up," Smith said. "We're together. Everybody's on the same page. There's really one voice."
Kaepernick understands his role for now: the franchise's quarterback of the future waiting his turn.
"Right now, he's the veteran, I'm just buying my time trying to get better and work into that spot," said Kaepernick, a second-round draft pick out of Nevada. "He has seven years of experience so you expect him to have a little more knowledge of defenses and checks, things like that than a rookie coming in. Right now I'm just trying to get up to speed and make sure I know all those things so I can really make this a competition."