Kaepernick a new challenge for Pats

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As the Patriots begin their preparations for the San Francisco 49ers, who will visit Gillette Stadium on Sunday night, they'll turn their attention to a quarterback who became the starter just over a month ago.

But since taking over for Alex Smith (who went down with a concussion), Colin Kaepernick has played so well that he has supplanted Smith as the full-time starter, despite the veteran being fully recovered.

Kaepernick's unique athleticism has been on display over the course of his four starts, as he has had 50-yard runs in each of his past two outings. He's totaled 351 yards on 46 carries, including five rushing scores.

He's impressed Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty, not just with what he can do with his legs, but his arm as well.

"He's a guy that can do a lot," McCourty said. "Just that last run against Miami he had last week, where he's able to hit the sideline and pull away from everybody. And he has a very strong arm. Another young quarterback that we're playing that we're just going to have to make things tough on him, do different things. But he's really grasped on to the offense fast. He hasn't played in many games, but he's been very productive."

Added coach Bill Belichick, "He’s a young, improving quarterback. It looks like he gets better each week and probably plays with more confidence and does things a little bit better each week."

In some ways, Kaepernick's rise up the depth chart mirrors Tom Brady's back in 2001, when he replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe and never surrendered the starting job after that.

Brady was asked about being in the situation that Kaepernick finds himself in now, and how he handled as a second-year player himself.

"I think individually, as a player, you just try to focus on what you have to do to help the team win. That’s your role," Brady said. "When you’re on a team, you’re supposed to support the team in whatever way the coach needs you to support the team. When you’re not playing, you support the guys that are playing. You help out in practice and then when you get your opportunity, you try to go in there and support the team by playing. Ultimately it’s about winning games. It’s not about an individual; it’s about doing what’s best for the team. So when you play, you’ve got to play well."