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Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick takes off on a 78-yard TD run against Minnesota Friday night. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Going into 49ers training camp, one of the more interesting battles figured to be between Colin Kaepernick and Josh Johnson for the No. 2 quarterback job.
After one preseason game, give the edge to Kaepernick -- but it’s by decision, not knockout.
Both quarterbacks looked good, but it was Kaepernick who had the flashiest play of the night, dashing 78 yards for a touchdown in the 49ers’ 17-6 victory in the exhibition opener for both teams Friday night at Candlestick Park.
Alex Smith, entrenched as the No. 1 quarterback after leading San Francisco to an NFC West title and a berth in the NFC Championship Game last season, led the Niners to a 7-3 lead in the first quarter by guiding a 12-play, 84-yard drive that culminated with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Brett Swain.
After Smith called it a night, Kaepernick – the second-year pro who was the No. 2 QB last season – showed what kind of a game-breaking talent he can be by taking a direct snap in the shotgun, faking a handoff to rookie LaMichael James and then sprinting through a big hole in the right side of the line for 78 yards and a TD that gave San Francisco a 14-6 lead in the second quarter.
On the night, Kaepernick completed 5-of-9 passes for 40 yards and rushed three times for 92 yards.
Both Johnson – a veteran free agent signed in the offseason – and second-year QB Scott Tolzien played in the second half, with Johnson coming on late to complete two of his four throws for 30 yards.
Both Kaepernick and Johnson are athletic, strong-armed quarterbacks with the ability to run. Kaepernick, a second-round pick of San Francisco in 2011, has been considered the quarterback of the future, but going into camp the thinking among many was that Johnson, who played four seasons for the Tampa Bay Bucs after playing for head coach Jim Habaugh at the University of San Diego, might be a better No. 2 QB this season because of his experience.
Yet with one play, Kaepernick Friday night showed everyone what kind of talent he brings to the position. As soon as the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder hit the hole going full speed, he was gone.
It’s the type of play he was known for at Nevada, where he was the first Division I NCAA quarterback ever to throw for more than 10,000 yards and run for more than 4,000 yards.
As columnist Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group noted, “The run was a breathtaking reminder of what’s possible with Kaepernick.”
Going into camp, Kaepernick – who worked long and hard since the end of last season to polish his throwing mechanics and master the playbook – acknowledged he was in a battle for the No. 2 job.
On a team where Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke preach about the benefits of competition, Kaepernick knew he wasn’t going to just be handed the No. 2 job again with Johnson in camp.
“Josh is a great guy,” Kaepernick told reporters in June. “I’m good friends with him. But at the same time, we know it’s a competition when we step on the field.”
After Round 1, give the nod to Kaepernick.