SANTA CLARA -- The tension at 49ers practices tends to run high at times this year. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick said there's a simple explanation.

"It's the level of competition is high," Kaepernick said Tuesday as he and his teammates prepared to fly to Baltimore for the teams' exhibition opener.

It's not just the competition, Kaepernick said. It's the fact that the 49ers know how much talent they have on the roster and how far that can take them this season.

Also, Kaepernick and several of his teammates were around for part or all of the 49ers' three consecutive appearances in the NFC Championship game -- they advanced to the Super Bowl in the 2012 season -- so they arrive at training camp with high expectations and a working knowledge of the approach.

"The first year, everyone is just trying to understand and see where they fit in," Kaepernick said. "Now, everyone is confident is what our offense is doing, what our defense is doing.

"We feel like we have such a high caliber of player here that getting a starting spot, getting a spot on this roster is difficult. And people are fighting for those jobs. That's where a lot of the tension, a lot of the frustration comes in, people fighting and grinding to find their place."

That competition ratchets up when the 49ers play the Ravens on Thursday night.

Kaepernick is slated to play no more than two series, coach Jim Harbaugh said.


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Wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Brandon Lloyd aren't expected to play because of lingering injuries. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said he isn't sure if running back Frank Gore will play, either, even though Gore is healthy.

The goal still is to win, Kaepernick said. Furthermore, it's time for Harbaugh and his staff to see how well their young players perform in a game.

"As a team, you can find out a lot, especially with the younger players because they'll get a lot of the playing time. You get to see who can step up to the challenge in a live game and who kind of weeds themselves out. For us, having the competition that we do here is going to be something that we need to do."

The 49ers are playing the Ravens for the first time since the teams met in the Super Bowl two seasons ago.

The Ravens won that game, but that doesn't give Thursday's game any added emphasis, Kaepernick said.

"If this were a regular-season game, yeah, it would be a little bit different," Kaepernick said. "But right now, we're trying to make sure we go in, do the things we need to do as a team, get better and get ready for the season."