Nearing the one-year mark since he became 49ers starter, Kaepernick keeps making big strides

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Colin Kaepernick is the new breed of confident 49ers quarterback, a far cry from clean-cut Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young before him.

While the tattooed, beanie-wearing, large headphone-sporting Kaepernick looks nothing like the team's two greats under center, he already has that winning swagger at this early stage, and something else that's unique to him: both a big, strong arm and fast legs.

Kaepernick fully intends to follow in their footsteps and, he hopes, leave his mark and legacy on this proud franchise. He's off to quite a start in that regard.

"It's a great honor. There's very high expectations, there's great tradition," Kaepernick said. "So, being a quarterback for the 49ers, you have a lot of great things to look up to and to try to accomplish to become one of the elite quarterbacks that have been a part of this franchise."

As he nears the one-year mark from when he took over the starting job from 2005 No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith last November, Kaepernick has the NFC champion Niners (6-2) on quite a roll again.

In last Sunday's 42-10 romp of winless Jacksonville at London's Wembley Stadium, Kaepernick not only completed 10 of 16 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown to Vernon Davis for a passer rating of 117.7, he added seven carries for 54 yards, and ran for two scores in a game for the first time in his career.

Kaepernick and the 49ers expected opposing defenses to focus far more attention on stopping him this season by trying to take away what he so likes to do — move out of the pocket and run like mad.

It has worked, yet Kaepernick has adapted in recent weeks and broken open for big gains. Yes, he is looking a whole lot like the dominant quarterback he was down the stretch last season on the way to San Francisco's first Super Bowl berth in 18 years.

"He's done a phenomenal job in all regards," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "And he keeps getting better ... it seems like it's weekly now, game after game."

Kaepernick has his team riding a five-game winning streak heading into the bye weekend, a nice string following a pair of losses in Weeks 2 and 3, at Seattle then home against the Colts.

And, thanks to the defense, Kaepernick and Co. have had more opportunities. San Francisco has scored 30 or more points in all five victories during this unbeaten run, matching a franchise record also accomplished in 1994 and '97.

The 49ers have forced 13 turnovers during this stretch and have scored off each of those takeaways, getting nine touchdowns and four field goals.

For Kaepernick, the time in London provided a peaceful chance for sightseeing, something he can no longer do at home in the Bay Area given his rock star status.

"I don't try anymore," Kaepernick said.

From Day 1, Harbaugh expressed concern about keeping Kaepernick safe on the field.

"You protect him as much as you can," Harbaugh said. "You have to catch him first, though."

Teammates love watching Kaepernick take off with the ball. This is the guy who rushed for a quarterback-record 181 yards and two touchdowns and threw for two more TDs in a playoff win against the Packers back in January.

"That's one of the things about Kaepernick, he's a weapon with his legs as well," left tackle Joe Staley said. "He's just like a running back out there."

And when evaluating how he is progressing in the passing game, Kaepernick has a most simple method.

"To me it all depends on whether we're winning or not," he said. "If we're winning, then it's successful, if not, then something needs to change or we need to do something better."

He appears more comfortable with the stature and pressures of the job. It seems so long ago that the then-second-year pro took over when Smith sustained a concussion, then kept the job even once Smith returned to health.

On Nov. 19, 2012, Kaepernick looked every bit a No. 1 when he shined in place of the injured Smith as the 49ers whipped the Bears 32-7 on "Monday Night Football."

Smith is gone and leading an unbeaten team with Andy Reid in Kansas City.

Nowadays, Kaepernick is even becoming just a bit more revealing as he grows accustomed to the increased media demands as an NFL starting quarterback.

Recently asked why he had been listed on the injury report with a foot issue, Kaepernick said he had "a hangnail."

The "ailment" isn't slowing him down whatsoever. Kaepernick is still causing all kinds of problems for defenders.

"Kaepernick is a stud athlete and he showed it," Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny said.

With the sting of a three-point Super Bowl loss finally behind him, Kaepernick is all about doing the little things for a return to the big stage.

"We're not trying to look forward to playoffs or the Super Bowl. We know we have to handle our business on a weekly basis," he said. "Once we got back into training camp and got ready for this season, I think everybody is past that and moved on and focused on what we need to do now."


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