Colin Kaepernick not only has two high-profile receivers urging him to throw them the ball on Sundays. He's hearing the same things during the week.
"I mean, they have times in practice where they're, 'Hey throw me the ball. I'm going to do this,'" Kaepernick said of Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. "That's something you love to see as an offensive player. They're players that challenge each other in a good way, in that, 'I want to see if I can make a better play than you.'"
Kaepernick is more than happy to have two fiery receivers in his ear. For one thing, he said, it rubs off on the other pass catchers on the team. Moreover, the addition of Crabtree to the lineup has made things more difficulty on their opponents and has forced defenses to play the 49ers differently than when Boldin and Vernon Davis were the team's biggest pass-receiving threats.
"I think it's changed the way defenses play us a lot," he said. "We get a lot more honest looks from defenses because we have a balance across the field, as far as the capability to make plays. That's opened up a lot of things for Anquan. It's opened up a lot of things for Crab and Vernon. With those three on the field, it's tough for defenses to match up with them in the passing game."
Kaepernick's rapport with Boldin was near instantaneous. The two had a connection as far back as May, which Kaepernick attributed to Boldin picking up the playbook quickly and to Boldin's confidence. "As a quarterback, those are all things that go into, 'OK, this is someone I can really rely on. I can put the ball in the air and he's going to be where he needs to be,'" he said. "As quarterback that's something you love. You have that freedom to put the ball in the air."
He has the same confidence in Crabtree, his favorite target from 2012 who appears to be reaching last year's level after missing three-quarters of the season with an Achilles' tear. Crabtree on Sunday had his best game since returning, catching five of the six passes that went his way for 45 yards, including a four-yard touchdown pass.
Crabtree's fire and competitiveness also manifested itself in other, undesirable ways. In the third quarter, Kaepernick didn't see an open Crabtree streaking downfield and threw an underneath route to Boldin instead. Later in the game, Crabtree again was loose down field, but this time Kaepernick overthrew him.
A frustrated Crabtree picked up the ball and then flung it toward the line of scrimmage, picking up a critical 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Kaepernick said penalties should be avoided, but that he'll tolerate them if it means he has a receiver that wants his hands on the ball as badly as Crabtree does.
"To me, I don't see it necessarily as a bad thing," he said. "Obviously you don't want the flag; that was something that didn't benefit us. But having a receiver that constantly wants the ball is something I like. I'll manage the situation of him (saying), 'Hey, give me the ball. I want the ball. I'm trying to make a play. You could have hit me on this.' I'll manage that."
Kaepernick continued: "I feel it's tougher when you have a receiver that's, 'Um, if you throw it my way, I guess I'll try to make a play.' That's a worse situation. The fact he wants the ball and constantly is asking for it, that's a good thing for me."
More from Kaepernick:
* He said the 49ers will have to experiment with ways to replace fullback Bruce Miller, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury. But he said it shouldn't change their power-heavy philosophy. "We might have to tweak things here and there to try to put people in positions we feel are beneficial, but at the end of the day, we're not going to completely change our scheme because we lost one component," he said. "We still have to stay true to our identity."
* On the possibility of Anthony Dixon taking over for Miller: "He's someone who has no fear running through holes, taking on linebackers," Kaepernick said. "He kind of lives for that type of thing. So I'm excited to see what he can do when he gets in there. He normally has a pretty good feel for the game. To see him in there as a full-time guy or however the end up working it out. It'll be interesting to see how he plays game day."
* He said the 49ers gain more than they lose from their habit of letting the play clock run down before snapping the ball, which has led to timeouts and delay-of-game penalties. Said Kaepernick: "If (it's between) saving our timeouts for the end of the game and we're behind now and we're using our timeouts to try to catch up, whereas if we could use them earlier and get those points so we're ahead at the end of the game, we feel like that's a better situation for us."
-- Matt Barrows