SANTA CLARA — Just a week into training camp, Colin Kaepernick can already feel the difference between where the San Francisco 49ers' offense is now versus this time a year ago.
All of his teammates can see the evolution, too.
Kaepernick's confidence and comfort level have been soaring on and off the field. He has been tossing deep balls with more touch behind that powerful right arm — even leaving All-Pro linebackers questioning how to defend such precision — and strutting around the 49ers' facility with a black beanie on his head and bright red head phones around his neck to show off his swagger.
"I think thus far I'm a lot farther ahead from where I am last year," Kaepernick said Wednesday. "And hopefully moving forward that continues to show more and more."
All eyes have been on Kaepernick since camp began last week.
While his favorite target has been new wide receiver Anquan Boldin, Kaepernick and tight end Vernon Davis turned in what might be the play of training camp Tuesday.
A day later, the throw and catch still had the 49ers facility abuzz.
Davis, lining up in the left slot, was covered by All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis underneath and safety C.J. Spillman over the top. Davis sliced across the middle of the field and made an over-the-shoulder catch on a perfectly thrown pass by Kaepernick some 45 yards down field for a touchdown.
"When Kaep threw the ball and Vernon was able to turn on another gear and go get it on the other side of the field, I'm just like, 'Come on, that's not even fair,'" Willis said.
The play was just a small sign of how far Kaepernick has come with his receivers.
Davis' role diminished when Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith last season. He finished with 41 receptions for 548 yards and five touchdowns in the regular season; all three were his lowest since he caught 31 passes for 358 yards and two TDs in 2008.
Kaepernick said Davis' determination has never wavered. The two spent extra time together this offseason building that chemistry — which Davis candidly said last year they didn't have — and trust to create big plays like the one in Tuesday's practice.
"He did everything right on that play," Kaepernick said. "He made the correct read on the coverage, hit his landmark and at the end had that extra burst of speed to go get the ball."
The biggest challenge for Kaepernick so far in training camp has been finding rhythm with all of his receivers, which has been increasingly difficult because of injuries.
Top target Michael Crabtree is rehabbing his surgically repaired right Achilles tendon and is expected to miss at least half the season — and likely more. Mario Manningham is coming off an ACL tear in his knee and is expected to be back "at some point" this season, coach Jim Harbaugh said. And Kyle Williams, A.J. Jenkins and Kassim Osgood each came off the field Tuesday with apparent leg issues, though none seemed serious.
Kaepernick has used the time to develop a rapport with others receivers, including shifty slot man Chad Hall, who has surprisingly emerged as one of the quarterback's favorite targets for one reason.