Niners keep shaking things up under center

Posted March 29, 2012 @ 7:29 p.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

The Niners just continue pushing the envelope at the QB position. After finally reaching a meeting of the minds on a new three-year contract for starter Alex Smith once their flirtation with Peyton Manning turned out to be no more than an intriguing tease, the Niners apparently have a drama developing at the backup spot. Team insiders report that a “wide-open” competition is “absolutely” brewing between Colin Kaepernick, the team’s second-round pick in last year’s draft, and recent free-agent pickup Josh Johnson, who previously excelled under Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego.

“And don’t forget about (2011 undrafted free agent) Scott Tolzien,” one insider told PFW. “He’s very bright and accurate and could also be in the mix. Harbaugh loves lots of competition at every position, and he’s got it at quarterback. Johnson, who lives in Oakland, really wanted to be here. His agent called on the first day of free agency. He can throw the ball, and he had great rushing numbers under Harbaugh before. Both he and Kaepernick are dual threats, much more so than Smith.”

But the consensus seems to be that the odds may be (please pardon the “Hunger Games” reference) in Kaepernick’s favor.

“He’s still real raw (only 20 snaps as a rookie), but he has been here for a year and has better natural tools,” the insider said of Kaepernick. “His arm strength is unbelievable, but he does have that funky motion. There are some close to Johnson who think he needs to work harder. Josh Freeman was bad much of the time as the Bucs’ starter, and Johnson didn’t challenge him at all.”

The Niners also made some unexpected noise at running back, signing ex-Giants RB Brandon Jacobs to a one-year deal. Expected to be a short-yardage specialist for a team that was among the worst in the league in converting third downs last season, Jacobs could make it difficult for Anthony Dixon, who is entering his third season, to make the final roster with starter Frank Gore and shifty, change-of-pace dynamo Kendall Hunter also in the increasingly crowded mix.