Around the NFL  

 

Colin Kaepernick symbolic of running QB struggles

Print

Before the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers squared off in a Week 14 battle of the Bay Area, there was a surprising sentiment developing in league circles that rookie Derek Carr might just have a brighter future than Colin Kaepernick.

Despite Kaepernick's decisive experience and career-record (28-13 vs. 1-11) edge, Carr was the unanimous choice when The Sideline View's John Middlekauff asked five NFL executives and quarterback coaches their preference going forward.

Those results seemed prescient after a more poised Carr thoroughly outplayed a regressing Kaepernick in the Raiders' upset victory.

The lack of confidence in Kaepernick is still a bit of a shock, though, in no small part because he has excelled in the postseason and boasts outstanding physical attributes that led ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski to declare just 16 months ago that the promising 49ers quarterback had a legitimate chance to develop into one of the greatest to ever play the position.

The execs and coaches polled appreciate Carr's mindset, athleticism, pocket presence, quick release and strong arm, attributing his rookie-season woes to subpar surrounding talent.

Even if Carr's shortcomings are overlooked in favor of his potential, it seems shortsighted and capricious that he would be valued over a uniquely talented quarterback who led his team to the Super Bowl just two years ago and drew Superman comparisons from his head coach earlier this season.

So why is the bloom suddenly off the Kaepernick rose?

Now that the 49ers have invested in Kaepernick as the face of the franchise, it's incumbent on the coaching staff to minimize the injury risk. The direct result is less reliance on the read-option and a staunch commitment to developing a pocket passer.

That transition is fraught with growing pains.

A one-read passer with accuracy and touch issues, Kaepernick is on pace for a franchise record 51 sacks despite persistent accusations that he flees the pocket prematurely.

That speaks to a confused signal-caller, being instructed to go through his progressions but still unable to make the correct pre- and post-snap reads.

To be clear, Kaepernick is not the only hyper-athletic young quarterback struggling with the metamorphosis from a college spread offense to consistently delivering the ball from the pocket.

Citing the frenetic play of Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III, former Colts president and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian told TheMMQB.com's Peter King this week that the NFL is seeing "the incredible erosion of the running quarterback."

Russell Wilson is the outlier, but any discussion of his progress has to contend with the reality that Seattle's weakness is an undeveloped passing game relying more on randomness than rhythm.

Changes happens quickly in the NFL.

Two years ago, the running quarterbacks giving defenses headaches out of the nascent pistol formation and read option were revolutionizing offense as we knew it.

Now ESPN analyst Steve Young, perhaps the most successful dual-threat quarterback in NFL history, believes the tendency to scramble away from pressure actually hinders a quarterbacks' development as a pocket passer.

Young's epiphany came at the behest of Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh, who knew that breaking the pocket can stress defenses but ultimately fails not only the play design but also the open receivers. In other words, it leads to randomness rather than reliable, consistent success.

"So you talk about the light bulb. I really bought into, 'I've got to exhaust plays.' " Young said. "And the only way you can exhaust plays is -- you have to be an expert. You have to have the patience to stand in there and figure it out."

The sustained dominance of quintessential pocket passers such as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady has proven that the job of a championship quarterback is to "orchestrate and to be a master of the data -- from formation, to blitzes, to coverages," Young explained last week, in an enlightening article with Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.

The ability to reflexively process the mountain of data from the huddle to the line of scrimmage is dependent upon quality coaching and the quarterback's willingness to put in long, tedious offseason hours to become an expert on opponents' personnel and tendencies, while armed with an intimate knowledge of his own teammate's assignments on every play.

Amid the struggles of Kaepernick and Griffin, Young and fellow ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer have both made the comparison to breaking a wild stallion, as Mike Holmgren did with Brett Favre. The young quarterback must capitulate to coaching, understanding that his own fundamentally flawed approach is not the avenue to sustained success.

Kaepernick already is a dual-threat quarterback because he can stress defenses as a runner and as a passer. Joining Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck as triple-threat quarterbacks who exhaust plays and beat defenses from the pocket week in and week-out will require a major adjustment period.

Quarterback is the most important job in sports because of everything that happens before the snap. If Kaepernick ever gets that religion, the Bay Area quarterback debate will be short-lived.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast recaps every Sunday game from Week 14 and discusses the Seahawks' return to Super Bowl form. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

Print

Fan Discussion