Colin Kaepernick

Steve Young wonders if Colin Kaepernick can handle the “tedious challenge” of quarterbacking

Steve Young 49ers

Between Kurt Warner, Trent Dilfer, Ron Jaworski, Chris Ault and, most recently, Joe Montana, Colin Kaepernick is getting advice and feedback (both solicited and unsolicited) from so many football figures that his head has to be spinning. So hey, why not one more?

Steve Young, easily the most similar person to Kaepernick out of that group, at least from an athleticism and dual-threat skill set perspective, went on with Tom Tolbert and Ray Ratto (KNBR) this week. Surprise, surprise … Kaepernick was the subject that dominated the conversation.

Colin Kaepernick 49ers Beats headphonesOn Kaepernick’s performance against the Giants:

I think Geep Chryst did a great job last week, because … if Colin knows where to go with the football when it hits his hands, it works out great. If he’s not sure, and now when it hits his hands he has to figure it out, that’s higher degree, higher level kind of computing, as far as software of quarterbacking. And that’s where things were going haywire.

So I think last week they said, “Look, when the ball hits his hands, we want him to know where he’s going with the football. Catch and throw.” And they got away with it and they did a nice job. And I think (that’s where) Colin really excels. He wants to catch it and know where it’s headed. That’s an easier thing to defend over time, because you know that you can mess with that. And they also moved the pocket nicely. Colin can do that really well.

The problem is that there’s always a one-week lag on any gameplan in the NFL, because you show it, then the whole league sees that film and now adjusts to it. It was a nice adjustment, but now everyone’s going to adjust to that. So the next couple of weeks will be important to see that we can move the football, play catch and throw, move the pocket.


The most enlightening interesting parts of the interview actually came when Young talked about the areas of quarterbacking that are extremely dull:

You break it down to hardware and software. And hardware — Colin’s like No. 1. Right? Ability to throw the football, strength, speed, agility, athleticism, arm strength, everything. Hardware’s best in the league. The software is where we kind of have to develop over time an ability — and it’s high-level computing.

There’s guys I know that were super smart. This is not about IQ now, by the way. I know super smart, high-IQ guys that could turn over data really fast, but then under pressure completely collapse. Couldn’t do it. In theory, in practice, literally in practice, killed it. And in the game it would just overwhelm them. So it’s not an IQ thing, it’s more of a … there’s an aptitude to it.

There’s an aptitude to the minutiae of it all. It’s boring work! I’ve said this many times. High-level quarterbacking is really boring. Tedious memorization, so you have reflexive recall. You watch Aaron Rodgers. The other day, I was in Lambeau Field, and his ability to take in just enormous amounts of data and just process it reflexively. To the point where his body and his mind are completely one. He dictates to defenses, he just picks people out. He sits there and waits, and I literally see him look at the strong safety and go, “Oh, you poor sucker. You are just dead.” He runs around in a circle, hits him, and off he goes. Peyton does that. Tom does that. Three, four guys in a generation that really excel at it? And everybody else either has a hardware issue or a software issue or both, right?

So I think that Colin’s just got to … it’s a tedious challenge that I’ve talked about now for five years that I went through, to tie up my legs. And sometimes you don’t get coached that way. We’ve talked about that even before. I don’t know that Greg Roman really coached him. I’m not close enough to know what needs to be done to get him to that. Because with the talent that he has, it would be a shame if we couldn’t get him reading the full boundary.

Even Philip Rivers last week was so much fun to watch, because he’s doing the same thing. He doesn’t have nearly the protection, nearly the weapons — he’s got Antonio Gates back, but he’s always under siege. But there’s nothing stopping him from going boundary to boundary and end line to end line. And it’s fun to see guys that are built into that system, but it’s a tedious, tedious job.


We’ve all heard about how hard Kaepernick works. First one at the facility, last one to leave, etc. However, there might be a reason why he might be the only quarterback with abs ridiculous enough to make ESPN The Magazine’s annual “Body Issue.”

One could probably crystallize Young’s view on Kaepernick’s offseason regimen with the oft-used cliché: Kaepernick would benefit from working smarter, not harder.

There were a few noteworthy mentions in this interview, and the one that caught my ear immediately was when he wondered aloud if “Greg Roman really coached him.” And one can probably assume that he didn’t. Not that Roman didn’t coach Kaepernick or give him feedback (although it was clear that Jim Harbaugh was the one in charge of the quarterbacks), but Roman wanted Kaepernick to run his power-run based offense, and as long as the protection was good and the defense did its job, Kaepernick was capable of quarterbacking the team to victory.

Later in the interview, Young discussed working with a coach he tends to bring up quite often.


Those long, boring April days with Mike Shanahan

Think about what happened in the offseason. (Kaepernick) had been working — every year I’d hear ‘I’m getting stronger, I’m getting faster.’ Those are the things he’s great at. He’s great at that.

And this year it’s more different. ‘I’m going to work on some of the more softer skills.’ Well, it’s still hardware. Right? I’m going to work on my release. I’m going to work on my footwork. All important, super important stuff.

But the stuff I’m talking about is way more tedious than that. I keep using that word because it’s boring. Middle of April, in the back room, just kind of going through it over and over. It’s Mike Shanahan, drive you crazy going through it.

“Let’s go through it again.”

“No, Mike, I literally cannot go through it again.”

“But Steve, if you don’t go through it again, and get it deep into your brain, it won’t reflex back out. You’ll have to think about it for a second, and it’s too long. Too late. And then if you start to get all the stuff now embedded into you, you can start to dictate terms.”

That’s a hard thing to go do. I’d much rather work on the things that I’m great at. “I’m one of the most talented guys that football has ever seen. I’m gonna go work on those things, even around the edges, that I’m super great at already.” Why not? Who wants to go do the things that are boring and really hard? And I understand. Especially when you’ve got — I had that, too — the ability to move around.

My greatest tip of the cap, honestly, are the guys that can’t. The idea that Dan Marino did what he did from one spot? Dan Marino lined up and everyone knew: “Dan, you’re not going anywhere.” You ever have Dan try and chase down an interception? You’d see him start, because he’s competitive and then he’d be like, “Whoa, whoa. No no no. I’m done.” He did all of that damage for years from one spot. I cannot imagine.

So the guys that can move around, it actually works against you for some of this other higher level software stuff that I’m talking about. It’s like, “I don’t WANT to do that. Because I can do all this other cool stuff.”


Bill Walsh was known for being tough on his quarterbacks, and in the process he helped mold two Hall-of-Famers. It helped that Walsh only hired assistants who were as bright and driven as he was. It also takes a willingness from the quarterback to immerse himself in his weaknesses, to take a game that was so fun growing up — and it was evident when watching Kaepernick torch the Mountain West that he had a great time throwing and running at Nevada — and turn it into the world’s most boring graduate course.

Maybe Chryst has tried to get Kaepernick to focus on these tedious areas to no avail, but it’s telling that his go-to solution when the quarterback started flailing was to produce an exceedingly simple gameplan. Not that it’s necessarily Chryst’s fault that Kaepernick can’t handle more, even though Chryst was the Kaepernick’s quarterbacks coach for years before becoming the offensive coordinator.

Kaepernick can handle the book and video work, since by all accounts he was an excellent student growing up. The questions are (1) whether he’ll ever be motivated to dive into the areas of quarterbacking where he isn’t comfortable, (2) if he’ll have a coach like Shanahan with the knowledge and persistence to keep Kaepernick on task, or (3) if Kaepernick is one of those guys Young described who “collapse” when the game starts and pressure comes.

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