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Barely a month into the NFL season, with everything hanging in the balance, the 49ers needed to change something to try and provide some sort of spark. Well, here goes nothing...
Colin Kaepernick has been named the starter at quarterback for Sunday's game against the Bills. With the recent play of the now benched Blaine Gabbert, the team really had no choice. Gabbert was near the bottom of the league among starting QB's in YPA (5.9), completion percentage (58%), last in yards per game (178.0) and third to last in QB Rating (69.6). The bottom line is that Gabbert clearly wasn't getting the job done and after 4 straight losses, head coach Chip Kelly had to make the switch.
The last time we saw Kaepernick, he didn't look like an NFL quarterback. He was missing open receivers, throwing into coverage, didn't know where to go with the ball, hitting trainers on the sideline in the face with throws and taking sacks at an alarming rate. He was a shell of his former self.
A lot of it could have been attributed to the joke of a coaching staff the Niners put together in 2015, leading to a down year for almost every position on the team. Some of it could be attributed to the fact that defenses have now adjusted to Kaepernick's tendencies and have "figured him out." The offseason saw Kaepernick undergo three surgeries resulting from injuries suffered during the season. All that being said, the blame (rightfully) fell on Kaepernick, who made things worse with his poor play on the field.
In spite of that, this is a new (and much better) coaching staff within which to run an offense under. Watching the film from any game this year will lend credence to the fact that there are receivers consistently getting open and the quarterback is consistently failing to get them the ball. The hope is that Kaepernick can deliver into the same tight windows we've seen him throw into in the past. That's the hope. Whether or not it becomes reality remains to be seen.
Personally, I'm not expecting a ground breaking performance from Kaepernick. It'll most likely be more of the same – a roller coaster ride from start to finish. A tiger can't change his stripes, after all. He's not going to make up for the lack of talent at several key positions and the injuries that the team is currently dealing with. He's not going to put the team on his back and carry them to victory. He's just not that guy anymore. However, the thinking is that he can't be any worse than Gabbert was. This might be an offense within which Kaepernick can regain some of his old stuff and provide a spark to a team desperately in need of one.
Let's be clear. This is pretty much an audition for Kaepernick. He will be restructuring his deal so that he can opt out of his contract after this season. This may not be a long-term solution, but right now, it's the best solution the team has. There isn't a proven franchise quarterback on the roster, so they'll have to work with what they've got.
Say what you will about Kaepernick's protest and political views, but Colin Kaepernick the football player gives the team the best shot at winning right now – at least that's what the coaching staff thinks. He's become such a polarizing figure that people either love him or hate him at this point, and it has very little to do with what he's done in practice and in games. There will be criticism, speculation and maybe even some praise nonetheless.
It's ironic, isn't it? This is the same guy that general manager Trent Baalke didn't want. This is the same guy that was railroaded by the organization less than 12 months ago and was on his way out as recently as this spring. Now, this is the guy that he 49ers are calling on to provide some sort of spark, some sort of hope to salvage a season that is all but lost at this point.
How times have changed.