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49ers starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick has had a pretty lousy preseason. 13 pass attempts have yielded only 5 completions for 40 yards plus he's been sacked 3 times, once for a safety, and fumbled once. He's looked as dangerous as ever running the ball, gaining 62 yards on 4 carries, but that's been mostly on scrambles out of broken pass plays when the defense isn't looking for him. Kaepernick has fortunately been able to avoid turnovers, but there's been scant little else to rave about in his 3 partial preseason games of work.
To be fair to the 49ers signal-caller, his sample size for preseason work has been comparatively low. His NFC West rival and chief antagonist, Russell Wilson, has had nearly 3 times as many throws in the exhibition season, and it's difficult to achieve any sort of rhythm in only one or two series per game. It is worth noting that the San Francisco offensive line is looking more porous in pass protection than they have at any other point in Kaepernick's career. This could potentially explain why Kaepernick has been kept on a short leash, but he hasn't exactly looked great in the face of pressure in the few opportunities he's had.
The 49ers have to know that other teams saw their pass protection struggles on film and will bring heavy pressure against Kaepernick until he proves he can overcome it. The season will largely rest on whether or not Kaepernick steps up his game, starts making teams pay for sending extra rushers, and eliminates the mistakes. None of which really is a revelation, most teams sink or swim with their QB, but with such an obvious handicap on the right side of the line, it will force offensive coordinator Geep Chryst to account for the weakness, design plays to overcome it, and call them accordingly.
Believe it or not, this could be just what Kaepernick needs to finally make his game complete enough to maintain success.
Despite the attempts of the quarterback himself and the previous coaching regime, it seems doubtful he will ever become the Peyton Manning-like pocket passer that the 49ers have wanted him to be. When the pressure rises, his instincts tell him to run. Now he'll have to, whether he wants to or not.
If the 49ers make an effort to move the pocket to play to Kaepernick's athleticism and diffuse the rush, working in screens, bootlegs, and play action, it could truly play to the quarterback's strengths and instincts to move around. Not to belabor the comparison to Seattle's Wilson, but both players played significant amounts of baseball in their past and when Wilson is at his best, he looks like he's throwing more toward 2nd base than to his tight end, all in fluid motion and usually right on target — that ghastly Super Bowl throw not withstanding. Kaepernick could benefit from putting that nervous energy to good use on rolling out of the pocket and making throws on the run, where he's often the most comfortable anyway.
Former 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh had little time nor tolerance for screens and trickery, preferring to line up and punch you in the nose rather than dupe you with misdirection and for the most part, he had the players to do it. They ran surprisingly few bootlegs and worked tirelessly to keep Kaepernick in the pocket, all to mixed results of course. Tomsula's 49ers will have no illusions of physical superiority early in this season and will have to rely on at least some of these methods to simply get by on passing downs.
The preseason is notorious for making offenses roll out their blandest versions of themselves, and San Francisco's starting unit has definitely lacked flavor, but that all figures to change against Minnesota in the Week 1 home opener. If the San Francisco running game still has enough punch to keep the defense honest and have to challenge the run, it could make for a very interesting Monday night rebirth of a young quarterback's career. The key will be if Geep Chryst allows Kaepernick to play to his strengths and make the game try to catch up to him, instead of the other way around.