Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

O-Line Challenges Necessitates Change for Kaepernick

Jesse Dumas
Sep 5, 2015 at 5:41 PM

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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.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Jamice Welbon
    Teams know the Kaepernick runs to the outside. They are blitzing him to the outside and he runs right into their blitz scheme. Kaepernick needs to learn to identify where the blitz is coming from and make them pay by throwing the football in the area where they are blitzing. When teams blitz that means somebody is always open.
    Sep 8, 2015 at 12:21 PM
  • Marty
    If you want a pocket passer start Gabbert. He can function with that OL. Kaepernick has problems making quick decisions. A good pocket QB can make a bad OL look good by unloading the ball quickly. Why doesn't the media accept the fact Kaepernick will never be a pocket QB. Every time the pressure forces Kaepernick to stop looking down field. All Kaepernick needs to do is throw the ball away. He never does that. He always panics & starts running around. Stop putting him in that situation. Anybody can see that. Put Kaepernick on the edge in space & let him do his thing. Forget about ten years from now. Lets start thinking about 2015. Why don't the 49ers use his talents. Let him get out of the pocket. Get on the edge. No defense would like that idea.
    Sep 8, 2015 at 7:52 AM
  • Tim
    to be fair the safety really wasn't his fault... But the other sack that came after it.... definitely was. There was room to climb the pocket but the outside rushers coverged on him deep in the back of the pocket. One thing I noticed about Gabbert (albeit against 2nd and 3rd's) was that he stepped up into the pocket and got the ball off quick from the middle or front of the pocket. Kaepernick seems to be fall much deeper and stay there for longer.
    Sep 6, 2015 at 10:23 AM
  • Steve
    I agree, a poor right side of the line could be the making of CK7. A blitz on the right side, there's Bush waiting in the flat, or a zone read run to the left. Drop back to cover either, and he has the time to find Davis, Boldin or Smith. If this offence can find a rhythm and keep the defence fresh, we can win 10 games. I just hope that Geep isn't the second coming of Jimmy Raye.
    Sep 6, 2015 at 10:10 AM
  • Harry Elias
    You guys saw what Kap could do when the O line did protect him a couple of years ago. We can get back to that if we get the players to help protect. No QB in the league is effective if not protected properly!! Go NINERS!
    Sep 5, 2015 at 8:35 PM
  • Bdizzlefarizzle
    Let the boy play some ball! I don't get all the Kapernick hating and nitpicking, he's a very serviceable QB and still has the abilities that most QBs in this league don't have, I don't know why but I'm not worried about or offense this year. Will we be a top 5 O, probably not, but I believe we will be improved from last year, even with a work in progress Line. After living through the Tim Rattay, Shaun Hill (noodle arm), Trent Dilfer and bad Alex Smith years, I'm just feeling good about this team!! Go Niners!
    Sep 5, 2015 at 7:56 PM
  • Steve Kellogg
    Well written. I agree and a very good analysis.
    Sep 5, 2015 at 5:52 PM

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