By Neil Patrick Healy
After the offseason from hell and a month of agony, it’s been an up-and-down season for San Francisco 49ers quarterback and Nevada alumnus Colin Kaepernick in 2015. The highly-published departure of former head coach Jim Harbaugh and the subsequent mass exodus of players and coaches that followed, the outlook was looking bleak going into this season. Following a week one win over the Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco began a month long stretch of defeats that ranged from embarrassing blowouts to nail-biting heartbreakers.
With the defeats came the criticism. Three quotes stand out in the diagnosis of Kaepernick’s fall from greatness. A former coach, a sports writer and a Hall of Famer each give a different perspective to what has exactly happened to the young quarterback who once struck fear into the hearts of defensive coordinators.
Touch, accuracy and overall mechanics have been criticisms of Kaepernick’s since he became the starter, and those flaws have really been on display in 2015. When the 49ers faced the Arizona Cardinals in week three, Kaepernick threw four interceptions, a career worst, as San Francisco was blown out 47-7.
Former Nevada head coach Chris Ault coached Kaepernick from 2007-2010 and worked with him firsthand on his passing mechanics.
“He has a low elbow at times,” Ault said in an interview with Yahoo Sports. “It’s not a sidearm throw by any means, but his elbow and arm are at 90 degrees instead of having that thing extended all the way up. He does that because he’s so doggone strong. He’s one of the few guys that can get away throwing that way, but when you have to make the touch pass, drop it over [coverage], or if you have to anticipate where a receiver is going, that type of release oftentimes makes you very inconsistent.”
When Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2012, he was protected by arguably the best offensive line in the NFL. That memory seems like an eternity ago with the 2015 offensive line being a shadow of its former self. Of the five starters on that Super Bowl offensive line, left tackle Joe Staley is the last man standing in his original position. Alex Boone was moved from right guard to left guard, center Daniel Kilgore is on the physically unable to perform list after suffering a broken left last season, Pro Bowl offensive guard Mike Iupati bolted for the Cardinals in free agency this offseason and offensive tackle Anthony Davis took the year off.
In week four against the Packers, Kaepernick was sacked six times and took a hit on seven more plays.
“Four games into this season, and the offensive line – a problem in training camp and preseason games – is still a big problem,” said NBC Bay Area writer Doug Williams. “It may be time for a shakeup in the front five. If not, the same problems are sure to keep occurring, over and over.”
In the 2012 NFC Divisional playoff against the Packers, Kaepernick became the record holder for most rushing yards in a playoff game by a quarterback with 181 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 263 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-31 win. After his incredible performance, it looked like Kaepernick would become the league’s most feared dual-threat player. Once he signed a large contract extension, it seemed like the coaching staff tried to keep their young quarterback from using his legs to keep him free from injury. Hall of Fame 49ers quarterback Joe Montana explained in an interview with ESPN that he feels this is the root of the problem with Kaepernick.
“I would tell him to get to the coaches and say, ‘Look, I’m here because [I ran the ball] in college, and my first year I was here you let me do it,’” Montana said. “’Now because I’m making a lot more money, you’re trying to keep me in the pocket, you’re trying to make me do things.’ Let him be himself. That’s what I would tell him. Tell those guys you want to be Colin Kaepernick, the guy you drafted and who you let me be the first year I was here.”
Despite only running the ball three times for 10 yards, Kaepernick used his feet to move around the pocket and extend plays, which came in handy last Sunday on a 21-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Quinton Patton to extend the lead to 25-13 against the Baltimore Ravens with 10:52 left in the fourth quarter. San Francisco would go on to win 25-20 for their second win of the season.
With these three arguments presented to the digression of Kaepernick, which is the most valid? Well, if it was that easy to pinpoint the problem then the 49ers coaching staff would have made the adjustment by now. What is gained from presenting three quotes from three credible sources that differ in opinion is shedding light on the entire situation. The woes of Kaepernick are more complex than a mere stat sheet lets on. No effect happens without a cause, but what exactly is the root cause and where Kaepernick goes from here are still to be determined.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NeilTheJuiceMan.