San Francisco 49ers rookie Colin Kaepernick could be benefiting during the NFL lockout more than any of his recently drafted peers who were selected to, at some point, become their teams' starting quarterbacks. He has a mentor with some experience in Alex Smith who's willing to help him, even if it results in Kaepernick taking the job the veteran has had and wants to retain.
"It's been great," Kaepernick said on NFL.com's Cover Two podcast of his relationship with Smith. "You won't find a nicer person than Alex. He's helped me with any questions or problems. He was quoted as saying that when he came in, Trent Dilfer helped him along. He said he wanted to treat a rookie the same way he was treated when he came in. To me, that shows a lot of class."
One of the biggest misnomers in pro sports -- in any job really -- is the experienced vet reaching back to help groom younger guys. A lot of players talk that game, but they really aren't in a hurry to help someone replace them. Smith, who has organized player workouts during the lockout, might not want to accelerate Kaepernick's learning curve, but he's not sabotaging him either. That can't be easy for a guy who's pretty much on his last audition to prove himself.
Smith is a free agent, but he's expected to re-sign with the 49ers, in all likelihood, after the lockout is lifted. Why else would he have a playbook and be organizing workouts? It probably won't be close to a long-term deal either. Kaepernick was drafted because Smith hasn't established himself since being selected first overall in 2005.
Still, who's tutoring No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton? Jimmy Clausen? Quarterback coaches Chris Weinke and George Whitfield? What about Jake Locker in Tennessee? Rusty Smith? Veteran Kerry Collins hasn't been around much and isn't sure if he wants to be when the lockout ends.
Minnesota's Christian Ponder is pretty much on his own because the only other quarterback under contract is Joe Webb. Jordan Palmer is running offseason workouts in Cincinnati, where Andy Dalton could replace Palmer's brother, Carson, as the starter. Jordan Palmer doesn't have as many stripes as the 49ers' Smith.
The only rookie quarterback who might be getting some help from an in-house veteran is Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert, who has David Garrard to show him the ropes.
Is having an established mentor crucial? Not really. Mark Sanchez, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford are the latest quarterbacks who've fended fairly well on their own. Josh Freeman had Byron Leftwich, a former starter, to help him along, but he still fended quite well for himself.
Those players also had minicamps, organized team activities and time in the film room and on the practice field with coaches. The lockout has stifled that for this rookie class.
Despite their relationship, Kaepernick said that once football is back to business, he's going to challenge Smith at every juncture to win the starting job.
"You just know when you step on the field you can have a great relationship and still compete with each other," Kaepernick said. "I'm going to be going for that starting spot, and he's going to be doing the same thing. May the best man win. When we're on the field, it's going to be a competition, and we're both there to win it."
With the 49ers boasting a roster with enough talent to win the NFC West, Smith would seem like he has a distinct advantage simply because he has taken NFL snaps and knows his teammates and opposing personnel. If he has taught Kaepernick well, then his edge might not be so sizeable, or it might have given the 49ers enough trust to turn to Kaepernick if Smith gets hurt or doesn't perform as well as needed.