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SAN FRANCISCO

Colin Kaerpernick is a more gifted quarterback than Alex Smith. Not a better quarterback. More gifted.

Eventually, Kaepernick also will be a better quarterback than Smith — it could happen this season.

On Thursday night in the fourth exhibition game — the one that means almost nothing — Kaepernick once again demonstrated his gifts. Call them prodigious.

Here's what happened. Smith made a cameo appearance, coming in and handing off five times. That was appropriate because you don't want your starting quarterback squashed in a game like that. So, see you later, Alex, and keep well.

After that, Kaepernick came into the game in the middle of the first drive. Kind of unusual. The drive ended with a touchdown run by Anthony Dixon who absolutely must make the 53-man squad. But one pass by Kaepernick stood out. He rolled left — sprinted actually — and as he ran, he threw across his body to fullback Bruce Miller for nine yards.

It was a beautiful throw and it's Kaepernick's signature throw — toss that sucker while his body goes one way and his arm goes the other, an impossible maneuver. No one does it better than him in the entire league. Certainly not Alex Smith. Not even close.

OK, cut to the 49ers' next offensive series. It was against the Chargers' first-team defense and it was a Kaepernick showcase. On first down at the Chargers' 32, he threw a deep, low line drive leading Brett Swain down the right sideline. It was a bullet and it was on the money, and Swain let it slide through his hands. It was an exceptional throw Swain should have caught. And let's be dead honest, the Niners need exceptional deep throws because, with their incumbent running the offense, they have a lack in that department.

On the very next play, Kaepernick executed a bootleg. He avoided some tacklers, ran left and threw a guided missile over a linebacker and right into the eager hands of Delanie Walker who tiptoed along the left sideline into the end zone — touchdown. It was another exceptional throw showcasing Kaepernick's exceptional arm strength — certainly greater than Smith's arm strength. No question about it.

None of this is to say Kaepernick should be the starter. Nothing like that. Smith is more experienced. He reads the defense better before the play starts, although Kaepernick is more decisive, more daring once the ball gets snapped. And the offense currently is oriented to the game-manager, don't-screw-it-up-for-heaven's sake style of Smith. We know all that.

But there is something the 49ers can do, should do. For this we need a quickie look at history. When Bill Walsh started out, he had Steve DeBerg at quarterback but preferred Joe Montana — duh. Walsh would start DeBerg and bring in Montana for selected plays to give Montana the feel of things, to showcase Montana's talent.

Maybe Jim Harbaugh should do the same thing, bring in Kaepernick when the situation calls for his superior athletic talent. Like in the red zone. If Smith is as incapable as he was last season, let Kaepernick run the option offense in the red zone, something he's great at. He could throw a quick pass or run for the touchdown. Why not?

Or if the 49ers want to hit a receiver on the left sideline, let Kaepernick run that play. Put him in the game for Smith and let Kaepernick sprint left and throw that nature-defying laser to the astonishment of the defense. Just let him do it.

And most of all, if the Niners want to throw deep, go to the guy with the big arm, go to Kaepernick. Like they did in the second quarter when Kaepernick lofted a perfect deep ball to tight end Garrett Celek for 37 yards, a pass with touch and strength and distance. Just beautiful.

That pass set up a TD a few plays later, another work of art, Kaepernick sprinting right and hitting A.J. Jenkins in the back of the end zone. When Smith gets that opportunity, he usually backs up in panic and then throws the ball out of bounds. Call that Smith's signature move.

Am I saying Kaepernick should be the starter now? I repeat, I am not saying that. I'm saying the 49ers should begin to experiment with Kaepernick, give him some plays in real games, work him in. I believe he is the 49ers' quarterback of the future.

I also believe he might take the 49ers to a Super Bowl, and I believe Smith never will. This certainly is not the time for a quarterback controversy. Expect that to come later on.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.