SANTA CLARA (AP) — After an impressive quarter of action in San Francisco's preseason opener last week, Colin Kaepernick has grabbed a clear lead in the three-way competition to be the 49ers' No. 2 quarterback behind starter Alex Smith.
Coach Jim Harbaugh said Tuesday that Kaepernick has put some space between himself and young veterans Scott Tolzien and Josh Johnson.
Kaepernick moved the offense with his arm and his feet while guiding the 49ers (No. 4 in the AP Pro32) to 10 second-quarter points in their 17-6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The second-year player was the game's leading rusher with 92 yards on three carries, including a 78-yard touchdown run.
He also completed passes to four different receivers, including a 15-yard sideline strike to rookie A.J. Jenkins to set up a field goal for San Francisco's final points.
Kaepernick, San Francisco's second-round draft pick last year, has been listed as second on the depth chart since offseason workouts began in the spring. But only recently has he begun to separate himself from Tolzien, the team's No. 3 quarterback last year as a rookie, and Johnson, who joined the 49ers as a free agent in March. Johnson started five games over the previous three seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I would say Colin has emerged there," Harbaugh said. "And it's been very good. Nothing is set in stone in that regard, but there has been some emergence."
Kaepernick took over against the Vikings after Smith directed the first unit on a 12-play, 84-yard touchdown drive on San Francisco's first offensive possession.
He made an immediate impact.
On his second snap, in shotgun formation, Kaepernick faked a handoff to running back LaMichael James on a read option, then took off around the right side and found a seam. Kaepernick was gone as soon as he passed the line of scrimmage, racing past five Minnesota defenders and then finishing off the long scoring play with a stiff-arm of cornerback Chris Cook at the 10.
It was that kind of athleticism that made Kaepernick the only player in NCAA history to record 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in three consecutive seasons at the University of Nevada, convincing the 49ers to trade up to select him in last year's draft.
"Colin gives you possibilities," Harbaugh said. "He gives you that because he's got tremendous athletic ability and can operate, really, in the pocket or outside the pocket. I just loved the way he finished that run. But all our quarterbacks really played well. That was a highlight of the night."
The 49ers have placed a lot of emphasis this year on developing depth at quarterback behind Smith, who took every significant snap for the team last season and had a career year while helping San Francisco reach the NFC Championship game.
The Niners have been encouraged with the progress and potential of Tolzien, who has been impressive throughout training camp. Tolzien started the second half and completed 10 of 13 passes for 84 yards against the Vikings, who blitzed him several times.
Tolzien's makeup has some San Francisco defenders calling him "Baby Drew Brees," comparing the second-year player to the record-setting New Orleans quarterback.
"He plays that type of style of play and I was personally very impressed with what Scott did in the game the other night," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "But I wasn't surprised by it, because he does that out here against us on the practice field all the time."
Tolzien appears to have moved ahead of Johnson, who some thought might challenge for the starting job when was acquired. Johnson was a record-setting college quarterback in Harbaugh's offense when both were at the University of San Diego.
Harbaugh is not ruling out that all four will have a job with San Francisco this season, though it will be difficult for the 49ers to keep four quarterbacks with their roster concerns at other positions.
"Anything is possible, because these are four quarterbacks that will all play a very long time in this league," Harbaugh said. "We'll do what's best for our football team, what we feel like helps us be a better team and helps us win games. This is one of those things that was foreseen, that we have four very good quarterbacks. This competition, it moves. It's fluid. It goes up, it goes down, it goes sideways, and it's playing out."
NOTES: Harbaugh said he expects tight end Delanie Walker (right knee) to be available for the team's regular-season opener Sept. 9 against the Green Bay Packers. Walker injured his knee during the team's practice Sunday at Candlestick Park. . The 49ers announced that former player Gordy Soltau will be the 23rd inductee into the Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. 49ers Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will be held at Candlestick on Oct. 13. Soltau, who played for the 49ers from 1950-1958 as an end and kicker, was a three-time All-Pro who led the NFL in scoring in 1952 and 1953.