Moving fast in a black Nike T-shirt and Jordan Brand shorts, with a pair of Beats headphones draped around his neck and a New Era cap sloped on his head, Colin Kaepernick was a walking, talking billboard for corporate, street-cred merchandise.
Except for one problem: On the first day of 49ers training camp, he didn’t feel like talking much. And when he was done with his two-sentence answers, he kept right on walking through the back halls of Levi’s Stadium, into a quarterbacking future as fuzzy and unpredictable as it once seemed brilliant and transcendent.
How does he like the post-Harbaugh way of life, the new faces, the different vibe?
“We’re just working,” said The Face Of The Franchise. “Trying to get ready, trying to move in the right direction.”
Has he improved in the nuances of throwing a football, such as not telegraphing his passes, something his defensive teammates have been raving about?
“Once again, it’s just trying to be the best quarterback I can for this team,” said The Leader Of The Locker Room. “Whatever work I need to do, I’m trying to do.”
Is he still absorbing his offseason lessons, in physical mechanics and mental approach. from his much-chronicled work in Arizona with two-time league MVP Kurt Warner? Is he still thinking about those tutorials?
“Once you’re on the field, you’re playing,” said The 18th-Best Quarterback In The NFL, by my estimation. “You’re not worried about anything other than doing your job to help your team.”
There were more good questions from the media throng, and more brief answers, and while any reasonable soul should reserve judgment on Kaepernick’s season ahead — and, for that matter, the regime of seemingly overmatched Jim Tomsula — until the 49ers actually play meaningful games, his brusque, indifferent tone was off-putting. Wasn’t this the first day of the rest of this franchise’s life? Isn’t he the one hope for the fans after a frenetic offseason of unprecedented turnover for a team that, not terribly long ago, was five yards from winning a Super Bowl with Kaepernick under center? Yes, we know he can be grumpy. Yes, we know he has been terse before in media settings, and that the greatest quarterback ever, Joe (I Liked My Balls Unshrunken) Montana, didn’t say a hell of a lot himself sometimes.
But we’d also heard that Kaepernick had changed, that he never seemed more relaxed and upbeat in a similar session with reporters weeks earlier. And with so many cornerstone leaders gone — Patrick Willis, Frank Gore, Justin Smith — in a swirl of departures and legal trouble that left the 49ers disturbingly unsettled, the expectation was that Kaepernick would accept the leadership mantle in much the way Russell Wilson has in Seattle. He needn’t be outspoken, but strong, sturdy and direct certainly works, with Aaron Rodgers as another projection role model. Yet on the day Wilson became the NFL’s second-highest-paid player — with a four-year, $87.6 million extension and a $31 million signing bonus — Kaepernick had no interest in delivering mission statements.
What is the new offensive coordinator, Geep Chryst, telling him about improving an offense that scored fewer points than all but seven teams?
“Just execute,” said The Man Whom Ron Jaworski Once Said Would Be One Of The Greatest Quarterbacks Ever. “Just doing the things we are supposed to do on offense and go out and make plays.”
How does he like Tomsula?
“We’ll see how it goes. I’m looking forward to it,” said Harbaugh’s Pet Project, The One For Whom Alex Smith Was Benched And Traded. “Tomsula has been someone that’s been great to me since I’ve been here. Never acted any different towards me now then he did when I first got here, which is something I greatly respect about him.”
How does the offense play to his individual strengths?
“It’s a team game,” said The Former Cover Subject Of GQ And ESPN The Magazine. “That’s all we’re worried about is trying to win as a team.”
It also wasn’t long ago when America examined Kaepernick and saw the 21st-century quarterback, a tatted-up tornado who could wing the ball 75 yards or dash the same distance for a touchdown. We loved him as a dual-threat revelation. We loved his back story: born to a single teen mother, adopted by a couple that raised him in Wisconsin and then in Turlock, Calif. He and Robert Griffin III were going to revolutionize the sport, if not Planet Earth itself, and Russell Wilson was the third wheel, modeling cashmere sweaters on the inside pages while Kaep and RGIII were flexing and mugging on the covers.
But injuries and locker-room drama doomed Griffin. And Kaepernick, while still effective, was exposed by defenses who knew his problems with footwork, reading defenses, staring down receivers and staying cool in the pocket. If his ability was breathtaking, his performances often were maddening. When he wasn’t running away from defenses that sacked him a league-high 52 times, he was one of the league’s worst fourth-quarter quarterbacks by all metrics.
The hype was premature.
He remains raw.
The grand design in Santa Clara is that maturity will overcome all. But Kaepernick blew it in the offseason with Twitter screwups, including an insensitive post about the Houston floods. His hashtag — “7tormsComing” — is all you to need to know.
Which quarterbacks, past or present, does he try to emulate?
“The biggest thing is I watch myself,” said The Biggest Enigma in Football. “What I need to improve on, what I can do different.”
The question was asked because of the work with Kurt Warner.
“Once again,” said Colin Kaepernick, “I look at myself more than anything. What I have to do better.”