Santa Clara, Calif. • Tight end Delanie Walker arrives at work at 6 a.m. each day, and Colin Kaepernick always beats him to 49ers headquarters.
The quarterback clocks in before most of his teammates for that matter.
With that work ethic and standout performances, Kaepernick has earned himself a third straight start at quarterback for San Francisco on Sunday at St. Louis.
"Kap's here before me. He's here lifting weights," Walker said.
Coach Jim Harbaugh made the announcement Wednesday that Kaepernick got the nod over Alex Smith after the second-year pro led the NFC West-leading Niners (8-2-1) to victories in the past two games, his first two NFL starts.
"The rationale is we have two quarterbacks that we feel great about as a starting quarterback," Harbaugh said. "Both have earned it, both deserve it Alex over a long period of time, Colin by virtue of the last three games. It tips the scales. Colin we believe has the hot hand. We'll go with Colin. And we'll go with Alex. They're both our guys."
Yes, Harbaugh is still leaving open every possibility, saying it still could be a week-to-week decision. All Kaepernick knows is he will begin Sunday's game under center.
The reigning NFL Coach of the Year told his players on the field at some point during Wednesday morning's walk-through practice.
Kaepernick has completed 48 of 74 passes for 680 yards and three touchdowns with one interception and was sacked six times. He has a 102.3 passer rating.
"I don't know if it's a hot hand. Whatever you want to call it. I'm just happy I get to go back out there," Kaepernick said. "It's a great chance to lead this team and show we're a great team and we can go into the playoffs."
Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick out of Utah, hardly looked happy on the sideline during Sunday's win over the Saints after being medically cleared from a concussion suffered in the first half of a 24-24 tie against St. Louis on Nov. 11.
"That's coach's decision," running back Frank Gore said. "He said before he's going to go with the hot hand, and he's sure that Kap's got the hot hand right now. I just feel we've got two good quarterbacks who can help us win. That's a plus for the team."
Losing his job is nothing new for Smith in what has been a roller coaster eight-year NFL career filled with promotions and demotions. Even after his last full game was an impressive win on Monday Night Football at Arizona on Oct. 29 that earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. In a near-perfect night, Smith completed 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. He had a 157.1 passer rating and connected with nine different receivers.
Smith bounced from starter to the bench throughout 2010 after coming into the year entrenched as the starter and that's been his story each year except for during last year's turnaround season. He is 19-5-1 in two years playing for former NFL quarterback Harbaugh.
In the locker room, players have said all the right things: supporting both quarterbacks, while reiterating it is Harbaugh's call to make.
"It's getting very old. It's kind of taking away from what the Niners are doing, all this fuss about our quarterback situation," Walker said. "[Alex] definitely didn't lose his job. Kap is just playing well, so that's what I think you're seeing right now. A lot of guys on offense are feeding off it. So we're just going to go with Kap until Jim Harbaugh decides otherwise."