Kaepernick says he's ready if Smith goes down

Alex Smith said on Thursday that he had to go through three days of NFL-mandated protocol earlier this week to get cleared to practice and play after sustaining a concussion during last week's loss to Dallas. That indicates how close the 49ers were to turning to their untested rookie backup, and if something were to happen to Smith, Colin Kaepernick says he's now ready and able to take his place.

That could have happened this week if Smith had experienced complications or residual effects from a concussion that wasn't revealed until Smith's name appeared on the team's injury report late Wednesday.

Smith, talking about his injury publicly for the first time Thursday, said he remembers the play on which he got dinged against the Cowboys but didn't realize he had a concussion until receiving that diagnosis from doctors when being examined after the game. Smith never left the game and played every offensive snap for the 49ers.

"There's quite a few steps you have to do in order to get cleared," Smith said. "I went through all the protocol that the league requires and the doctors require. Everything looks great and I'm ready to play."

That's a good thing for the 49ers, because they are relying heavily on Smith to stay healthy and carry the load at quarterback at least until the two unproven rookies behind him can get some more practice time to soak up the system and gain some experience in it. Neither Kaepernick or third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien has played a regular-season NFL snap.

Kaepernick would be the first option should Smith go down in a game. The rookie hardly looked ready for prime time during his extensive action in four exhibition games this summer. Kaepernick finished the preseason with an awful 23.9 passer rating, completing just 48 percent of his throws while tossing five interceptions without a touchdown pass and being sacked eight times.

But the second-round draft pick has continued to work diligently and show improvement in practice, and he declared Thursday that he's ready to jump in for Smith if and when the team calls on him to do so.

"Very ready," Kaepernick said. "That's why we're out here practicing, in case something like that does happen. I'm trying to take every step I need to do to make sure I'm ready to play. So if that time comes, I'll be prepared."

Kaepernick said he's much more comfortable now in the offense and believes he has a better understanding of how to operate within the system.

"I feel very comfortable with it," Kaepernick said, "and the more time you spend in our offense, the playbook, the more comfortable you're going to get with that, and that's where I'm at right now. The more you practice it, the better you feel with it, and right now I'm very confident in everything we're doing. I'm just trying to keep working hard and make sure I'm ready."

Despite his shaky preseason, when Kaepernick looked more like a raw prospect rather than a QB ready to step in for front-line duty on a moment's notice, the 49ers' offensive chiefs don't seem to be lacking in confidence that the rookie can get the job done.

"I think Colin is ready to go," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Thursday. "He is on top of his assignments. Just like any rookie quarterback, there's going to be a curve there. It's just a fact. But he's getting tons of work in practice and really improving all the time – very much on top of the game plan."

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