Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Smith reflects on his 49ers days with Colin Kaepernick, addresses his NFL future

Feb 21, 2021 at 4:16 AM--

It's been the better part of a decade since Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick were part of the same quarterback room with the San Francisco 49ers, but Smith still sounds as impressed as ever with what he experienced on and off the field when the two of them were teammates.

Smith spoke for almost an hour this week on Kaepernick and a number of other subjects during a guest spot on the 10 Questions With Kyle Brandt Podcast (click here to listen). Smith, who was the starting quarterback for the 49ers when Kaepernick was selected in Round 2 of the 2011 NFL Draft, told Brandt he remembered Kaepernick as a "great dude" who brought an impressive work ethic to the NFL right out of the gate.

"We were doing workouts at San Jose State. It was a few of the guys on offense and the team," Smith said. "Kap came out immediately after he got drafted and was ready to roll. Just a really, really, good dude, really respectful. Great worker. Crazy strong. He had such a unique set of tools, to be as big and strong and fast as he is and he was. But definitely a little quiet, just kind of figuring out who he was in life and all that going on. But a great teammate."

Kaepernick played sparingly in 2011 but exploded onto the scene in 2012 when he took over the starting spot after Smith suffered a concussion in the ninth game of the season. The 49ers then went on a memorable run to Super Bowl XLVII, led by electrifying performances from Kaepernick like his 283-passing yard/181-rushing yard/four-touchdown showing in a 45-31 playoff win over the Green Bay Packers. Smith probably wasn't too thrilled to have lost his starting job to Kaepernick, but he was dazzled by what he saw from the young quarterback nonetheless.

"The run that he went on at the end of that last year when we were together and then went to the Super Bowl -- I don't know what it was, like eight games at the back end of the season and then the playoffs -- was so crazy to watch," Smith said. "Truly one of the historic runs in football to see what he was doing. He still holds records from that time period. It's crazy to fast forward only a couple years after that that he was out of the league... couldn't even grasp it. Couldn't understand it. Still doesn't make sense."

Smith, of course, is referring to Kaepernick's famous pregame protests, which eventually helped lead to him being out of the NFL since the end of the 2016 season. Smith made it clear he's not a fan of the fact that Kaepernick's days in the NFL seem to be over after seeing the high level of talent Kaepernick displayed earlier in his career.

"I think it's so tragic looking at it," Smith said. "I think he was ahead of his time certainly, trying to call out social injustice, especially around police reform. The country wasn't ready. Nobody was ready for it, and he's sitting there trying to tell everybody through a completely peaceful manner about some of the things going on in this country and have been going on for a long time. To see the backlash that happened, yeah it hurts. It hurts looking back at it. The country wasn't ready for it, and he suffered the repercussions with his job."

Kaepernick didn't show any signs that he would become politically charged when he and Smith were teammates, but the eventual evolution in his passion towards social issues didn't come as a surprise to Smith based on what he experienced.

"No, he wasn't political when we were together," Smith said. "He was really thoughtful. And like I said, Kap, he's quiet, so he's not a guy that was talking a ton, but he was always very thoughtful about stuff. I think he was at a point coming out of college where you're still trying to figure out who you are and what's important to you. So I didn't necessarily see any of that. Obviously we had our hands full with football and just trying to win games, so I never saw that side, but I'm not necessarily totally shocked by it either just having known him. Like I said, he's a thoughtful guy."

Smith was traded from the 49ers to the Kansas City Chiefs after the 2012 season but remained friendly with Kaepernick. The two of them don't communicate much these days, but Smith still holds Kaepernick in high esteem.

"We don't talk a ton anymore. Just from a distance a little bit now and then. But I'm a big fan of his -- obviously crazy talented but a really good person," Smith said.

The big question with the 36-year-old Smith these days is where his career will go from here after an improbable comeback from a life-threatening leg injury that included him leading the Washington Football Team to an NFC East title. Smith, who went 38-36-1 as a starter for the 49ers since being selected with the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, doesn't sound much like a man ready to hang up his cleats after winning the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year Award for 2020. He told Brandt he was enthused by how his leg reacted after returning to the field last season and thinks he still has some things he can accomplish on the gridiron -- but not before enjoying life over the offseason and taking some time to ponder his future first.

"I'm excited to see what I can do this offseason," Smith said. "I feel like I've got a list of things football-wise and just life that I want to go do, that I've been wondering about ever since I broke my leg -- that wondered if I'd ever be able to do again. I want to go chase those down this offseason. Obviously, I'll take some time here and sit down with my wife. She deserves obviously quite a bit of input in this, and then go from there. So no rush to make that decision here like tomorrow, but I just kind of want to get into this offseason and see where I'm at. I still feel like I've got a lot of room for growth on the field based off what happened this past year."

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