Will 49ers Say Goodbye to Colin Kaepernic?
Jim Harbaugh’s attempt to turn Colin Kaepernick into an NFL quarterback hasn’t worked and never will because Kaepernick doesn’t believe it’s necessary.
Kaepernick’s free-lancing style has worked for a long time. It worked in high school because his athletic ability was far beyond his peers. It worked spectacularly well at Nevada Reno because coach Chris Ault had a system which could have been designed specifically for him. It worked in his first year of starting for the 49ers, when Harbaugh put him in for Alex Smith, who had to miss one game because of a concussion and wound up sidelined for the rest of the season. The rest of the league had no idea how to defense Kaepernick that first season. His running style, especially, confounded them because his long strides disguised his speed.
Now defensive coaches around the league have figured him out. This season, he’s made an occasional spectacular play but overall, it’s by far the worst season he’s had. There are other reasons for that because this 49ers team is far below the teams which have gone to at least the NFC championship the last three seasons but it’s also been obvious that the league has caught up to Kaepernick. I’m sure Harbaugh knew this would happen and he’s tried this year to make Kaepernick more of a pocket passer, but it hasn’t worked.
Steve Young, who was also an effective runner early in his 49ers career, had advice for Kaepernick in a lengthy interview he did with Eric Branch of the Chronicle a couple of weeks ago: To be a topflight quarterback, you have to learn to sit in the pocket and give your receivers a chance to get free downfield.
Rookie Raiders quarterback Derek Carr showed Kaepernick how it’s done when the Raiders beat the 49ers last Sunday, staying in the pocket and looking for receivers downfield. Seattle’s Russell Wilson has shown Kaepernick, too, when he’s used his feet to buy time while always looking downfield, often finding a target for a big gain.
Kaepernick never does that. At the first sign of pressure, he starts running. Because defenses expect that now, he only occasionally gets loose for a good gain. Most of the time, he is sacked.
Even the best quarterbacks often have periods of adversity early. John Elway was easily the best collegiate quarterback I covered, and I marveled at his ability from the first time I saw him, in his first practice at Stanford. He made plays nobody could believe. In a game against USC, the Trojans’ safety, Ronnie Lott, let Ken Margerum get behind him because he was confident Elway couldn’t throw the ball over his head. But, Elway did, for a touchdown.
But in his Stanford career, Elway’s teams were a game below .500, and they never went to a bowl game.
In contrast, Kaepernick’s teams at Nevada Reno were good and got progressively better as he went along. His individual statistics improved markedly from year to year because he was playing in the perfect offense.
So, he had no reason to believe that it wouldn’t be the same on the pro level. But, NFL coaches are smarter and spend much more time looking at video. They also have the players to implement their systems.
Kaepernick has the physical skills to be an excellent running back or perhaps even a receiver but those positions don’t get the same attention – and usually, not the same money – as quarterbacks get. There have been players who have made the switch at the start of their pro careers, with Paul Hornung the most obvious example, but if a player starts his pro career as a quarterback, he’s not likely to change. Tim Tebow is out of football because he refused to accept the judgment that he wasn’t a quarterback, though he could certainly have made it as a running back.
So, I wouldn’t expect Kaepernick to agree to a position switch, which probably means that his career with the 49ers is about to end. It seems almost certain that Harbaugh will be gone after this season, so there will be nobody left to fight for him. He (and his agents) agreed to a contract that can easily be broken if Kaepernick doesn’t meet performance standards this year, which he probably won’t.
The best guess is that the 49ers will look for a quarterback in the draft, even if it means trading up to get a better position, and let Kaepernick go. In the NFL, yesterday’s heroics mean nothing. It’s all about what you can do today.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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