SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The No. 1 mission of this San Francisco 49ers training camp: Boosting the Colin Kaepernick-led passing attack. It even has the defense raring to go for Thursday's first practice action. If the secondary can get its mitts on Kaepernick passes, both sides stand to grow.
"A huge goal for the secondary is to pick him off as many times as possible in training camp. He's trying to make us better, and we're trying to make him better," reasons safety Eric Reid, echoing the "Iron sharpens iron" mantra of Coach Jim Harbaugh.
Kaepernick, of course, has a few interceptions he'd like to erase. He had two passes picked--and he lost a fumble on a sack--in a forgettable fourth quarter that doomed the 49ers in last season's NFC Championship game loss at Seattle.
That crash landing underscored the 49ers' need to upgrade a passing attack that ranked 30th in yards per game. The additions of Stevie Johnson, Brandon Lloyd and Bruce Ellington appear to have done the trick -- even if Vernon Davis' contract discontent leaves some uncertainty at tight end.
Last season's finale also brought back memories of the 2012 season's ending, when Kaepernick threw three consecutive incompletions toward Michael Crabtree in a Super Bowl defeat to the Baltimore Ravens.
The wounds are still fresh.
"That's something I constantly think about," Kaepernick said recently. "Not just red zone, but my play in general. How can I improve and how can I be better throughout the game?
"Whether it's taking a check down or whether it's making a big throw at the end of the championship game, what can I do different to make sure I'm making those plays?"
Training camp marks the 49ers' last chance to fine tune their upgraded passing attack before they set out in search of their first Super Bowl victory in 20 years.
Much of that onus falls on Kaepernick, their dual-threat quarterback who recently signed a six-year contract extension worth up to $126 million. But he won't go it alone.
The 49ers tout the deepest receiving corps of Harbaugh's four-year tenure, and they have arguably the league's best offensive line. That's assuming the potential contract holdouts of tight end Vernon Davis and right guard Alex Boone get settled.
Kaepernick needs to do is go through his pass-route progressions better and read defenses faster, his critics say. Of course, getting the ball over Seattle Seahawks nemesis Richard Sherman in crucial, game-altering moments also will help come Thanksgiving Night at Levi's Stadium.
The 49ers are convinced Kaepernick can do it. His passer rating ranks third among the franchise's quarterback heritage, behind only two guys named Steve Young and Joe Montana. And Kaepernick's interception percentage (1.7) is a franchise-best.
But the 49ers clearly realized he couldn't improve the passing attack without better targets.
"We're a lot deeper at receiver," starter Anquan Boldin said.
The 49ers first acquired San Francisco native Stevie Johnson in a draft-day trade. They lured Brandon Lloyd out of a one-year hiatus (as they did with Randy Moss in 2012). And they drafted speedster Bruce Ellington in the fourth round out of South Carolina.
"It gives us an opportunity as an offense to do a lot more," Kaepernick said. "You have a lot of weapons that you can put in a lot of different places. " They all have the capability of getting open and making plays."
Perhaps most important, the 49ers re-signed Boldin (two years, $12 million) and kept Michael Crabtree healthy through the offseason program (see: 2013 Achilles tear).
Crabtree is entering the final season of his rookie contract. Running back Frank Gore and left guard Mike Iupati also are unsigned beyond 2014. That trio's plight has been overshadowed by the offseason contract holdouts of Davis and Boone.
Whoever lines up on the 49ers' offense this fall, more is expected from them. None more than the guy lined up behind center.
Said Reid: "Our ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl, and we can't do that without our starting quarterback."
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