I’m partly guilty of this for posting a photo of Colin Kaepernick on Facebook during halftime of the 49ers/Jets game with this caption: “Maybe the 49ers’ Tebow is better than the Jets’ Tebow…” It was meant as nothing more than a silly quip, because the idea that the San Francisco 49ers utilized Kaepernick more than ever before in order to mock the New York Jets for sprinkling in Tim Tebow is ludicrous for several reasons.

  • The 49ers lost in Minnesota the week before
  • The Cardinals keep winning
  • There have been no reports of Jim Harbaugh or Greg Roman engaging in any sort of feud with Rex Ryan or anyone else on the Jets’ staff
  • Harbaugh and Roman have never been known for vindictive playcalling in the past (besides a couple instances of running up the score)

The primary reason why the 49ers utilized Kaepernick more often against the Jets is related to the results of the plays Kaepernick took part in — they worked. Well, the running plays at least.

Harbaugh had this to say about Kaepernick during yesterday’s press conference:

Just to follow up on that with Kaepernick, does he sort of earn his play during the week of practice? Or was it something that you saw in matchup that you wanted him in this game?

“It’s definitely been earned. Colin’s a very dynamic player. A great team player too. Everybody wants to play and feel a part of contributing to the winning. But there’s been no self-serving, shameless self-promotion by Colin, as he’s been in this understudy role, this backup role, to lobby for packages or play time. He’s really been good. He’s a competitior, he’s got a pretty stiff jaw and goes about working every day and being prepared to play. You never know when that chance is going to be when you’re the backup quarterback. But you’d rather be prepared and not be called on than be called on and not prepared. He’s been great in that regard, but also very good from a team standpoint of not pouting or moping or complaining, or just the lobbying. He comes at it from a great team approach. Just, preparing and getting better and being ready. Just working, when his number’s called upon. And then, to have the toughness, the mental toughness, talent, the ability to work at your craft when you are called upon, the toughness to take it out there on the field and make it happen, speaks volumes about him as a person and a player.”

Most of that is your standard praise from Harbaugh, who’s been known to publicly promote his players’ skills and personality attributes. The key part was the beginning — “It’s definitely been earned.”

This shows that the 49ers are truly invested in their backup quarterback, they like how he has matured, and they hope he’ll someday become a starting player capable of winning games and championships. While this seems painfully obvious now, Kaepernick’s future with the 49ers wasn’t all that clear back in March when the team signed Josh Johnson. When the 49ers cut Johnson it said more about Johnson’s development as a professional quarterback than it did about Kaepernick’s, but there has certainly been a lot of improvement from the tall, athletic quarterback from University of Nevada, Reno — especially from what we saw (or didn’t see) during Kaepernick’s lockout-accelerated rookie season.

Referencing Bill Walsh (again)

A few weeks ago, Ruthless Sports Guy wrote about how there are similarities between how Walsh groomed Joe Montana under Steve DeBerg and what Harbaugh is doing with Kaepernick. I’d like to add in a similar comparison, only this time based on how Walsh worked in Steve Young after acquiring him from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1987.

Clearly a comparison between Steve DeBerg and Alex Smith works better than a comparison between Montana and Smith. Montana is the best quarterback of all time, Smith is not. Also, Smith has been extremely durable during Harbaugh’s tenure whereas Montana dealt with back and elbow problems after the 49ers traded for Young.

However, Kaepernick’s physical strengths make it seem likelier that his ceiling is closer to a right-handed Young than a bigger, faster Montana. Kaepernick may never earn a law degree or become an ESPN analyst, but like Young he’s a running back taking direct snaps from center (only with a much stronger arm). Young became one of the most efficient quarterbacks in history near the end of his career, but he only completed 53.3% of his passes over his first four NFL seasons (from the ages of 24-27). It takes a while to master a system, even for someone as bright as No. 8.

Young picked up 10 starts during his first four years as the 49ers’ No. 2 quarterback, and played in several games after Montana and the rest of the first team built up a sizable lead. While Smith has been an ironman of late, he takes a lot of sacks and has missed games in the past. But it’s Smith’s durability that has afforded Harbaugh and Co. a valuable opportunity, according to Tre Faaborg at Niners Nation:

So get him in the game, use him in a multitude of ways, and get him used to the situations he could one-day face as the starter or in relief of an injured Alex Smith. It’s an opportunity not too many QB’s get in this day-and-age. Heck, most of them are either thrown to the wolves as rookies when they have hardly a clue about reading defenses, protections, coverages, etc…or they sit and do nothing, taking just a handful of snaps each week to “stay fresh” but never really getting situational experience.

Should Kaepernick become the full-time starter this season? No, because a team with a defense this good shouldn’t have a quarterback who feels comfortable throwing into triple coverage in hopes of connecting on a highlight reel play to Randy Moss. However, with how much time Kaepernick has received this season, it looks like Harbaugh and Roman believe their second-year quarterback is more than just another Tebow.