Early indications are that the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick is a changed quarterback this season, and he isn’t one to disagree.
“I was asked to do things outside of my character [last season],” Kaepernick put it rather bluntly Wednesday when asked about his current role. Before reporters could drag former head coach Jim Harbaugh and ex-offensive coordinator Greg Roman into the discussion, a team media relations person cut short the interview, and the quarterback quickly left the stage.
Yet the inference was clear: Whereas Kaepernick felt obligated to win games by himself under Harbaugh last season, he no longer feels that way under new coordinator Geep Chryst and head coach Jim Tomsula, and the result has been a more relaxed and decisive player thus far.
“We’re not asking for the same things,” Tomsula said. “It’s not the same. There’s really not anything to compare it to [between] what we’re asking him to do and what he has been asked to do any other year.
“Hopefully, we’re using his talent in a smart way. With a guy like that, you can become a jack of all trades, master of none, because there’s so many things he can do. So we’re trying from our end, from the guys with the ball caps on, to make sure that we don’t do that, that we have just enough.”
In two games, Kaepernick has a .694 completion rate, two touchdown passes and zero interceptions. Though it should be emphasized that many of his numbers came in the second half of Sunday’s loss in Pittsburgh, when the game already was lost and in rout mode, his 98.1 rating is better than that of Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson.
Perhaps the most telling statistic of all is this one: Kaepernick already has completed at least four passes to a half-dozen different targets, a sign of improved vision and patience. Again, how much of it is about progress and how much about meaningless numbers in garbage time?
At this stage, the significance of Kaepernick’s early performance may mean more about “comfort zone,” as he puts it.
“I would say the biggest thing is, I’m being asked to be myself this year, and I don’t think anyone knows how to be myself better than me,” Kaepernick said. “So it’s a comfort zone for me. It’s a situation where I’m not being asked to do things outside of my character.”
“The process is going well,” Tomsula said.
This weekend the 49ers will face an Arizona Cardinals team that has allowed the fifth most passing yards in the league. And a quarterback, Carson Palmer, who may require the 49ers to engage in a passing shootout, given his blazing start.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he noticed a different Kaepernick as well, though coaches were known to say nice things about their opponents in advance of the game.
Nonetheless, as someone who is widely regarded as an expert on quarterback play, it’s doubtful Arians would risk his reputation with false praise. As Steelers offensive coordinator, he helped Ben Roethlisberger make the quantum leap from game manager to prolific pocket passer.
“Yeah, I think [Kaepernick] has progressed as a quarterback,” Arians said. “It’s obvious when he’s in the pocket going across his progressions, his footwork — he’s put a lot of work into it. That’s obvious to me as a quarterbacks coach. I applaud him for that. And they do what he likes to do, but he has progressed as a pocket passer.”
Time will tell.Colin KaepernickJim TomsulaNFLSan Franciso 49ers