Let's start with the obvious: how you look in the preseason is not necessarily how you'll look when it counts.
When you're coached by Jim Harbaugh, that's especially true. Some coaches want to use these games to establish a rhythm, try out some new tricks. But Harbaugh seems to have two simple goals. Stay healthy, and show nothing.
Take the third preseason game, the supposedly all-important dress-rehearsal. Last year, against the Texans, the Niners looked completely inept, and yet it didn't matter at all. So no; when the Niners look flat in these preseason games, there's no reason to panic.
Good thing, too.
In Denver, the starting O had precisely one impressive play: a beautiful touchdown pass from Alex Smith to, of course, Vernon Davis, who was five yards away from the closest defender. (To be fair, that was one more impressive play than was made by the starting D.) But the enduring image was a head-shaking sequence of follies worthy of Jimmy Raye: timeout, delay of game, false start.
And with that, mercifully, the preseason for the starting O was essentially done.
But Colin Kaepernick was just getting started.
As recently as the week before, he looked like he hadn't improved at all. Still a physical freak, of course—the strongest arm imaginable, and seemingly faster than any receiver—he was struggling with two very serious issues. Like most graduates of one-read college schemes, he wasn't exactly zipping through progressions. But even when he found the open man, his lengthy wind-up—consuming nearly every inch of his infinite wingspan—seemed to make him flatly unable to deliver on time. Finding the window was tough enough; by the time he was able to fire the ball, the window was closed.
These same red flags were on his draft-day scouting report, and despite a year of Harbaugh's coaching, they were still there. Harbaugh deemed him a lock for the #2 job, but this seemed like more of Harbaugh's patented coachspeak. Kaepernick was Harbaugh's Chosen One; naturally Harbaugh would pump him up. But on his actual merits, Kaepernick was barely ahead of #3, or was even #3 himself.
In Denver, though, something changed.
Oh, it was subtle; Kaepernick threw the ball only four times. But they might've been the four best throws of his career to that point. A 30-yard rope on a roll to the left. A perfect strike on a three-step drop. A gentle touch on a roll to the right. And a bullet perfectly placed into coverage.
That was all, but something was different. The decisions were quicker, more assertive; the delivery seemed tighter, more efficient. And surely you noticed: the entire offense crackled with life.
And we hadn't seen anything yet.
On Thursday night, he did it all. He threw from the pocket. He threw on the run. He threw for two spectacular scores. Every throw, except for four, went more than 10 yards. And every throw, except for two, was on time, and on the money.
was an explosive offense.
Okay, let's calm down a bit. Drool-worthy showings by backup QBs are standard fare in preseason games. (See Davis, Nate.) Coaches tend to open their playbooks for the backups—even Harbaugh seemed to here—and the opposition is hardly elite. It pays to remember, the preseason is still just that: nothing's as bad, or as good, as it looks.
On the other hand, though, this wasn't some no-name we picked up on waivers. This was our designated quarterback of the future. And out of the blue, it looked like the future was already here.
Now understand: I am not
suggesting that Kaepernick should start, or start right away. No doubt, it's tempting; with no fewer than 10 teams about to start first- or second-year players, it's now become clear that the learning curve for young QBs—and the conventional wisdom that they should be treated like they're made of glass—is a lot less imposing than it used to be. Add to that their athletic chops—exponentially more jaw-dropping than those of their veteran peers—and the Niners might steal an extra glance or two at Kaepernick, perhaps the most athletic of all.
The thing is, though, none of those 10 teams are Super Bowl favorites. Put another way, they've got nothing to lose. But the Niners are ready. Sure, trying to win largely with defense and ball-control might seem hopelessly old-school, but last year they nearly won the whole thing. They'd be crazy to upset the apple cart, right?
Yet the Niners know they can't expect to ride that same cart all the way once again. They can still stay balanced on offense, of course—their D and their special teams would seem to demand it—but they know the 29th-ranked passing O will not be enough, not this
year. Today's league just won't allow it. If the Niners get halfway through this season, and if they're still throwing for 183 yards per game, they won't be on the path to the title.
In light of last year's shocking success, Smith deserves this chance he's got, to prove that he can raise his game. I'd hoped that he'd prove it this preseason, and now I hope that his failure to do so is attributable only to Harbaugh's refusal to tip his hand. But this preseason proved something just as important.
If Smith doesn't step up....?
Kaepernick will be waiting.
By: Peter North
Date: September 7, 2012 at 5:36 PM
Comment: "before you go all peter north on ck", Terry B., were you implying Mr. Kaplan is immensely excited about CK's potential? Or were you implying Jeff Kaplan is heaping excessive loads of praise on our back-up QB? Because in my humble opinion Alex S. deserves a little love too. Let's spread that love around!
By: Jose Rivera
Date: September 6, 2012 at 3:46 PM
Comment: I too was impressed with CK7 versus the Chargers and I'll admit I even called 2 buddies to tell them that I (one of the few A. Smith supporters) was ready for the CK7 era......LOL...I was quickly settled down by one of my buddies and look forward to the future of our organization.
Date: September 4, 2012 at 8:20 PM
Comment: Jeff, thank you brother, i was in the hospital for a while so its def nice to be back... they got beaches in cali right??? sounds good to me! do you have a prediction for the final score??
Terry B... nice to have you back man, i just thought it was a joke or something. Yes Tebow does blow, we can all agree on that.
Date: September 4, 2012 at 10:23 AM
Comment: I don't have a clue how Tebow got signed in the NFL as a quarterback. At best he's a running back and would probably excel at that position, but as a QB, Joe Namath hit it spot on. He does not have the skill set to consistently pull it off! The guy just sucks, he looks like a deer in the headlights once the snap is made...(can you say Kevin Kolb)...so to even put CK in the same paragraph with this clown shows the insight of an amatuer and the knowledge of tree bark.
By: The Real Terry B.
Date: September 4, 2012 at 8:55 AM
Comment: Shane, Jeff is correct. The first post was me; the second was not. Perhaps to avoid confusion in the future, Jeff can add an asterisk when someone is impersonating a regular. And, for the record, I don't think Tim Tebow is better than anyone, let alone CK.
Date: September 3, 2012 at 8:59 PM
Comment: I hear Cody Pickett is looming in Miami.
Date: September 3, 2012 at 1:09 PM
Comment: yes our "backup" qb showed signs of progress and that is very positive going into the season. let's not forget alex smith--let's not start bashing him before the season stars. alex--all the way!!!!!!!
Date: September 3, 2012 at 12:00 PM
Comment: While I agree that Kaep. has really seemed to get it together, I think it's far too early to count out Alex. 183 yards is not bad considering how little we threw the football. I fully expect us to throw the ball a little bit more and that is when we will truthfully know whether Kaep. is our future or not. If Alex comes out, fixes his 3rd down %, and plays well he is our QB of the future. I myself think that is what is really going to happen. Especially with the additions we have made.
But if Alex fails, then I agree Kaep. is an exciting up-and-coming prospect.
Date: September 3, 2012 at 11:02 AM
Comment: Man, Kaepernick was throwing the heck out of that ball. Could you imagine if he'd ever be given a chance with the starting core offense with that arm and scrambling ability. Ridiculous you can't give Kudos to this guy without somehow offending the four-time superbowl champ and hall of famer Smith. lol just joking.
Date: September 3, 2012 at 7:53 AM
Comment: Last season I was freaking out that A.S. was the starting QB and an unknown C.K. was back-up. After watching C.K. in pre-season, I feel more at ease that he could step in and play if needed. I still am freaking out about A.S. and the O-Line because during pre-season they have not looked to improve from last season. If, Jeff, you are implying a QB controversy, I'm not sure about that yet. But I would state that C.K. is probably better operating from a bad O-Line due to his mobility. This is something to consider if A.S. continues to eat his season dose of sacks.
Date: September 3, 2012 at 6:34 AM
Comment: Whoa, slow the horses down a little. CK has 1 good game against 3rd stringers and he's automatically starting next year? Really??? It's that kind of thinking that made Flynn and Kolb millionaires! Joe Montana said it best in December, Alex will thrive in this offense going forward now that he knows where everyone is supposed to be and he knows his options.
Folks, settle in for the ride, and don't hate for hating sake. Let It Go! I'm more worried about the skeptical defensive backfield.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 10:02 PM
Comment: Makes sense now Jeff, i didnt catch the first PN reference, i just read those ridiculous points and thought what happened to that guy. I know i was gone for a bit but that doesnt sound right.... btw nice to be back, i got really sick lost 35lbs which is not good when you were 180lbs, but recovering well and cant wait for the season. Just wanted to let you know how much i look forward to your writing during the recovery, Thank You! 9ers for life
By: Harry Jones
Date: September 2, 2012 at 7:34 PM
Comment: I've heard good things about this guy Peter North. My ex-wife liked the guy. Had his name carved into our bedpost. My ex-wife she loved that bedpost.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 7:19 PM
Comment: Up until the Denver game the little I saw of CK I was not impressed. IMO he was a wasted draft pick. Then came the Denver game and it appeared a light went on. What impresses me is the awareness in the pocket. He almost looks like he's playing at a different speed when he's rushed in the pocket. He stands tall in the pocket and is looking for the big play. Early in his career he can take off and outrun the defense. The question now becomes, how long will he ride the bench until he gets his shot and a true assessment.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 6:40 PM
Comment: wow to the haters of an article based on someones opinion about kaepernick who looked very good imo. yeah its preseason, but i really liked how he not only has a strong arm but has something alex doesnt.....he can scramble and run. if he can fix his mechanics a bit, why not start him? if alex struggles, i actually think kap would do good. he can buy time and find somebody deep.
By: Lucky Phil
Date: September 2, 2012 at 6:21 PM
Comment: Ok, Now I'm going to vent. I have been waiting patiently until after the pre-season. I had a lot of respect for the job TB did last year, but this year I have been disappointed. When I heard TB sealed an envelope and told everyone this will be our first rd. draft pick this year, I thought he sounded arrogant and stupid. And the pick of AJ Jenkins whether good or bad showed he was grandstanding. The second rd. pick of L. James was even more ridiculous. Anybody that says he is the next Sproles doesn't know what he is talking about. He is the next Danny Woodhead. Sproles got his first start in the league catching punts and kickoffs. If he could do that at least we could get rid of that loser Ted Ginn. Instead, we keep both these bums and lose Owusu to the Chargers. Just look at what the Giants did with their first two picks. They got a RB and a WR, just like us. But their RB is a starting RB not a 3rd stringer, and Randell is probably a #3 WR (not as good as Jenkins but not bad). And if you look at the Ravens they take Kelechi Osemele one pick before us in the 2nd (future pro-bowler) and take their RB in the 3rd. Sorry Jeff, I didn't comment on the article this week.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 6:03 PM
Comment: Last year was Alex's stage getting a redo, this year it's set with new targets, a re-tooled offensive line (still keeping an eye on the Boone situation), and finally a second year in an offense with a competent coaching staff. Alex needs to set it on fire, granted the latitude he gets from the coaching staff to ad-lib when needed or to wing it when the opportunity presents itself keeps me on the fence. As for Colin, I wonder when teams game plan for him how many times he will lose the ball due to his mechanics or how many walls he'll face once he has a linebacker shadowing him. How will his psyche hold up when he starts throwing interceptions or worse losing games due to turnovers he may have caused? Right now I'm confident that the game planning will be effective that suits the personnel we have and believing that we have not shown our cards due to the first two opponents we face this season, then again I'm just a fan.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 5:16 PM
Comment: Terry B: I typically agree with your opinions bro so i cldnt even tell if your post was serious or not. CK is no better than Tebow? have you seen Tebow throw a football? its pop warner. Tolzien as the starter? he had a 49 QB rating against back ups, you are comparing him to Brees?? SCOTT TOLZIEN? Brees was the first pick in the 2nd rd. and Harbaugh doesnt know what he is doing? he took a team without a winning record for 8 years led by alex smith to one BAD/WRONG call away from the SB as a rookie HC. I know we have a history of greatness but geez. Im actually curious on your thoughts.
Great work Jeff, I wld assume as 9er fans we wld all be excited to see CK looking good in what is only his 2nd yr. He IS supposed to be the future and i guess by pointing out the future cld be sooner than later makes a bad piece, teaches me not to assume!! Thank u for the insight as i dont get the games in NY. If alex continues to progress, its going to get very interesting. I think barring smith turning into a top 5 QB, its CKs job to lose next year (im actually starting to feel bad for Smith!)
Date: September 2, 2012 at 4:48 PM
Comment: Not a bad article. No one should knock you because of your opinion. I do have to say it is funny tho, because in the same sentence u say he did pretty good. But we also do have to take the pre-season with a grain of salt. you cant say how Kaep killed them, and then Smith didnt show much. Because most agree, it's all irrelevant for starters, and more for backups. Even in the 3rd game Smith didnt play as much as we thought. I just have one question for you. What if Smith plays out his contract and is the future for the next few years, and Kaep is still waiting? Good problem to have I say, what about you?
Date: September 2, 2012 at 4:20 PM
Comment: Matt Flynn had a couple of very good games, the Seahawks gave him a multi-million dollar contract, and the Seahawks now have to be regretting it. Of course, it is far better that CK has looked very good in preseason than the opposite. What makes this subject interesting is that none of us are fully invested in Alex Smith. I appreciate the fact that Smith would rather take a sack than throw an interception. But if we really do have a QB that can gain us 10 yards on a scramble rather than take an interception who also can throw as good or better than Smith, CK will be starting this time next year.
By: one more time
Date: September 2, 2012 at 4:15 PM
Comment: I used to pull for alex. After all these years, he proved he still acts like a rookie. We should have beat the Giants. I don't know who was or was not open downfield last year. I saw him miss two 7 yard swing passes to Gore. Would have been huge gains late in that game. Terry Bradshaw said it. I don't want to see the niners lose close games because of poor quarterback play. Six years equals a whole lot of excuses. We expect big time quarterback play. I feel alex will screw up when the chips are down. Like he did last year. Remember, I used to really hope he would succeed. Remember Shaun Hill, he was winning games with the same cast while people kept making excuses for alex. I would like to see Alex in the AFC so maybe he can help us win a Super Bowl.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 3:48 PM
Comment: This logic that "what worked once will never work again" is the most flawed form of logic I have seen in a while. Right up there with "you MUST pass 50 times/gm to win in this era". Why toss out a system that won you 14 out of 18 games?
By: Terry B.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 3:30 PM
Comment: The 49ers offense is a joke. CK is still no better than a Tim Tebow without the help of Jesus. If Harbaugh knew how to coach an offense he would start Tolzien right now. Look how Drew Brees boosted the Saints to greatness. But Jim Harbaugh is no Sean Payton. He doesn't even give Payton the respect he deserves as a superior football coach. The 49ers need some of the Saints' style of motivation. Then the 49ers will win a Super Bowl. If you want to be like the best (like Belichick, Payton), you have to learn from the coaching decisions that made them winners.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 2:47 PM
Comment: Based on some of these comments, I think a lot of people just read the headline and then write their comment. The article simply asserts that Kaepernick has greatly improved his decision making and mechanics (which can be evaluated regardless of the quality of D he's facing) and that if Alex stumbles, Kaep is capable of doing at least what Alex does. Pretty hard to argue against any of that.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 2:27 PM
Comment: Not to be a downer, but the whole article is something the general fan would already assume. Didn't really point out anything new.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 2:10 PM
Comment: The line of thinking in this article is getting a bit old. Can't you think of something new to write? If Smith...if Smith...if Smith...we all know Kap will take over if Smith falters. Did you need to wax lyrical about meaningless preseason games? Did you need to confirm for yourself what we all know, that Harbaugh is a close-to-the-vest coach and OBVIOUSLY wouldn't turn the starting O loose in the preseason? The best thing about 49erswebzone.com is that it provides links to capable and legitimate 49ers media coverage.
By: Kezar Vet
Date: September 2, 2012 at 1:18 PM
Comment: Excellent article. Kaepernick looked sensational the past two weeks, obviously has a good grasp of the offense, and he can do all the things we wish that Alex could do, like eluding the rush and passing on the run no matter which direction, throw rockets, and run like a deer. This plus he is showing poise and confidence.
They gave Alex a series of one-year contracts for a reason. It's just a matter of time.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 1:09 PM
Comment: Darn, I was hoping Jeff Kaplan would get waived last Friday by the webzone and find a place on someone else's beat writer practice squad. But no, now we have to look forward to another year of his annoying nonsense on the front page.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Comment: With each article you display less and less understanding of football.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Comment: Wow what are you saying? you would rather have ck over Smith?
By: Terry B.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 12:17 PM
Comment: Before you go all Peter North on CK, remember that San Diego's defensive backfield is so ravaged by injuries that they're going to be starting two undrafted free agents, and their top backup is an undrafted free agent. And CK was throwing against the backups to those jokers. Some of those receivers were so open Tim Tebow could have hit them. Let's see him do it against a real defense.
By: crom laughs!
Date: September 2, 2012 at 12:06 PM
Comment: Let's be real people Alex Smith is average at best. He rode the coattails of our defense all the way to the nfc championship game. If you can name one game where he showed up all 4 quarters I'll tip my hat. The guy only plays 2. Don't get me wrong he had some clutch games last year. But true colors came out in the nfc championship. E.g. wide open Kyle Williams striding down the center of the field alex overthrows by 10 yards. I am ready for the Kaeppers, if not for the fans do it for the defense, they deserve better qb play. Alex is Alex, he has peaked, he's not getting better people, sorry all you alex lovers but you saw the most you're gonna get out of him. It's time for a real qb, Mr. Kaepernick would you please stand up. He will be starting this year. Mark my words!!
Date: September 2, 2012 at 11:56 AM
Comment: This is insane. Not to say the offense won't be more explosive this year but to say the same formula that worked last year won't work this year is just crazy!
Date: September 2, 2012 at 11:43 AM
Comment: CK looks good when he rolls out, especially to the left which is one of the hardest throws to make. He looks much better rolling out than he does hanging in the pocket. Remember Jeff you/we wanted the WCO and the premise of the WCO is accurate, on time, short, high-success-rate passes. Can CK do that? Not sure and not sure if it matters. We know Alex can ball, when needed to, a la the Saints, and I do believe Harbaugh has played Alex very vanilla and when the season begins look out. If you believe what Harbaugh says - Alex has separated himself from the other QBs, if that is true and correct look out NFL here come the Niners. Nice article Jeff.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 11:40 AM
Comment: Really well written!
Date: September 2, 2012 at 11:29 AM
Comment: Great article. I have faith in Alex (or to put it another way, I BELIEVE in Alex!) but it's nice to know we have something promising waiting behind him.
Date: September 2, 2012 at 11:21 AM
Comment: So what are you saying? Because Kap had an ok preseason against mostly 2nd and 3rd stringers, Alex who had a good season needs to watch out? That's ridiculous!