Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The truth of the matter is that Colin Kaepernick is a misunderstood soul. Those who know him closely say that he's a humble, quiet, hard-working guy who just wants to play football at the highest level possible. He has been heavily involved with the children's charity Camp Taylor, helping children with heart defects and volunteering his time. He's just a regular guy who owns a 115-pound tortoise named Sammy and also just happens to be the quarterback for the 5-time Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers.

At this moment, there is no player who is more popular and recognizable on the 49ers than Colin Kaepernick (apologies to Jarryd Hayne). His meteoric rise to stardom began in 2012, highlighted by a record breaking rushing performance against the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Playoff and a berth in Super Bowl 47.

Kaepernick got his first taste of what it truly means to be a leader before he even had his 10th start in the league. Imagine being 25 years old, getting your first shot at starting in the NFL as the leader of a proud 49ers franchise on the verge of a Super Bowl birth, and on top of it all having to deal with media scrutiny about your appearance. Almost immediately after he got the starting job, there were generalizations about him because of his appearance. He stayed the course and dealt with the pressure gracefully.

Kaepernick went on to lead the 49ers to another NFC Championship Game appearance following the 2013 season and was amongst a group of young, mobile quarterbacks that had the potential to revolutionize the position and the game. Few quarterbacks in the National Football League had enjoyed the type of success that Kaepernick was enjoying at such an early stage in his career.

Then the Harbaughcalypse happened.

Flash forward 3 years from his Super Bowl season and it can be said unequivocally, that no quarterback in the league has seen his team implode around him like Colin Kaepernick has this past year. He has gone from being one of several leaders on the team to the leader on the team. To his credit, he has been in positive spirits throughout the mass exodus, like a true leader should be.

Amid turmoil between the front office and then head coach Jim Harbaugh, 2014 was a wash. Kaepernick struggled to find rhythm in the pocket, with the team being hit hard by injuries. He took a beating, getting sacked a league-high 52 times. He was inconsistent at times, flashing his brilliance mixed in with some questionable decisions with the football as he set a career high in interceptions thrown (10). It seemed as if he had taken a step back. Still, he set career highs in passing yards (3,369) and rushing yards (639).

Kaepernick recognized that he needed to improve his pocket presence. He enlisted the help of NFL great Kurt Warner and spent extensive time working with him this offseason. The changes Kaepernick made are subtle, but enough to impress his teammates. "You guys are in for a treat," said tight end Vernon Davis during organized team activities back in April.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes it can take a lot to change an athlete but Kaepernick stepped up, looked at himself in the mirror, identified his flaws and tried to address them - like a leader.

Gone is former head coach Jim Harbaugh, whose system Kaepernick excelled in. The same goes for former Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, who called the read option plays that made Kaepernick so dangerous as a runner. The current system is the brainchild of former Quarterbacks Coach and current Offensive Coordinator Geep Chryst.

The new offensive scheme promises to fix the deficiencies of the past, such as delay of game penalties, lack of tempo and lack of involvement of running backs in the passing game. Former long-time running back Frank Gore had career-lows in receptions (11) and receiving yards (114) in 2014. Through observations from practice and preseason, it is apparent that the running backs will be more involved in the passing game. If Kaepernick has any hope of staying upright this year, he'll have to use his running backs as outlets when the defense is bearing down on him.

The components of Chryst's system are designed to make it easier for the quarterback to make the proper read by putting receivers closer to him. The system also calls for the quarterback get rid of the ball quickly, or in Kaepernick's case, have the option to run.

Kaepernick played sparingly during the preseason, completing 5 of 13 passes for 40 yards and zero touchdowns; so it's hard to make a judgment on whether he really has improved or not. There were missed opportunities with newly acquired wide receiver Torrey Smith on a couple of deep balls, but those are things that can easily be fixed. It's clear that the 49ers coaching staff - who see all the intangibles that most people fail to recognize - are satisfied with Kaepernick's grasp of the offense and did not need to take a further look at him this preseason.

The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. The teams with the most successful quarterbacks are usually near the top of the league. That's not to say that football isn't a team sport because it absolutely is. The 49ers' 2014 season is an indication that a team often rises and falls together. However, just as the quarterback usually gets the glory when things go well, he also often gets the blame when things go south.

It's clear that this is a make-or-break season for Kaepernick. The team-friendly deal that he signed in the Summer of 2014 essentially states that the 49ers can cut him after this year with very little long-term salary cap ramifications. Kaepernick took that team friendly deal so that the 49ers could retain more of their talent.

The reality of the situation is that Kaepernick has all of the tools he needs to be successful as a quarterback. He has put in the necessary work to address his flaws and learn the new playbook to the extent that he can now direct his teammates on where to go in practice. He has put in the work to grow as a leader that his teammates can count on when the going gets tough.

For Colin Kaepernick, being a leader requires the ability to thrive in and embrace tough situations. It's meeting his birth mother for the first time ever when he was in college. It's going into a heavily favored Boise St. and coming out with a win. It's going into Lambeau Field in freezing temperatures and sending the Packers home in the playoffs. Kaepernick has accomplished what he has due in large part to his "refuse to lose" attitude. It will be that same attitude that he will have to regain to pull himself - and his team - out of the fire.