SANTA CLARA — There is a lot of romanticism about Colin Kaepernick, and he is very good. Jim Harbaugh may in fact have showed his genius by making the switch to Kaepernick midseason.

But where is Kaepernick at this point in his career?

In a Thursday interview, Alex Smith, the quarterback whose job Kaepernick took in November, talked about what impressed him about Kaepernick.

"Obviously physically, Colin's a tremendous player," Smith said. "A guy that strong, he can make all the throws. For me, the thing that's jumped out is just how fast he's processed it. I think that's the thing with young quarterbacks — no matter how gifted they are physically, I think they're behind usually going out there and mentally processing things, making quick decisions. Colin's done a great job of that, preparing throughout the week and playing fast on game day with his head."

Smith said, outwardly, much of Kaepernick's preparation involves keeping to himself.

"He's always got his headphones on. He's very unique, especially as we get closer to game day. Just kind of keeping to himself — mentally preparing as we get closer to game day. I think kind of making sure his mind is right, at least that's what I think he's doing. He's very locked in, especially as we get closer to game day. Very focused guy."

The focused Kaepernick has also grown more comfortable with asserting himself, Smith said.

"(He's) more confident, for sure," Smith said when asked how Kaepernick had improved. "More confident in what he's doing, especially in the times when there's some gray, some indecision. He's more confident just making a decision and going with it. That just comes through experience."

Smith's praise is flattering, for sure. But there's another aspect to Kaepernick's story, and it would be unfair to present this story without all its aspects.

But for all his gifts, Colin Kaepernick is inexperienced, certainly compared to Smith, who has already won a playoff game and who beat Green Bay earlier this season in Green Bay and outplayed Aaron Rodgers in every statistical category. That's a lot for Kaepernick to live up to Saturday.

Here's how one former NFL offensive coordinator expects the Packers to play the inexperienced Kaepernick:

"Kaepernick's ability to get the ball down the field and to extend plays in the pocket as well as his running skills are facets that will create concern for the Packers' defense. Alex Smith was more calculating and methodical, and an opposing defensive coordinator was not as concerned with the improvisational aspect of his play as compared to Kaepernick's.

"Dom Capers, the Packers' defensive coordinator, has had the opportunity to study the 49ers under Kaepernick. Capers will have some different dogs and blitzes specifically tailored to what the 49ers are doing. In addition, Capers will have some looks and secondary pressures with Charles Woodson that Kaepernick has not seen on film.

"I don't know how much of the diamond formation and the zone read option package offensive coordinator Greg Roman has in the game plan, but Capers has seen the diamond in practice from the Packers because it is part of their own scheme, and I am sure he will have an awareness of the option aspects with Kaepernick, especially in the red zone as well as the designed QB draw and QB sweeps.

"Even though it is a home game, one of the biggest issues I think for the 49ers is going to be communication from the coaches' box, down to the sidelines and then on to Kaepernick through the headset. Kaepernick needs time to get in and out of the huddle and up to the line of scrimmage so he can make the necessary "kill" calls or checks without needlessly burning a timeout or having to rush because of the play clock.

"There is no question Kaepernick has all of the physical tools, but, as with Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton and Robert Griffin III as well as Russell Wilson, the playoffs are about experience and maintaining composure and NOT turning over the ball.

"Young quarterbacks have a postseason learning curve that exceeds the in-season learning curve. They go from the 100 level college courses to the 300 level in one big jump, and for most of them, they take their lumps with the initial exposure to the playoffs.

"In Kaepernick's case, he only has seven NFL starts under his belt, so he is skipping a couple of grades and jumping directly into the AP coursework of the NFL playoffs."

Is he ready to make the jump? We'll find out tomorrow.