Attention San Francisco 49ers fans, Colin Kaepernick has arrived as a quarterback in the NFL. In what is usually the most boring and least watched exhibition game of the preseason, there was plenty of excitement on the 49ers side of the football. Kaepernick and fellow quarterback Josh Johnson combined for 283 passing yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Kaepernick was by far the star of the game, showing pose in the pocket and laser like accuracy in the 49ers 35-3 win over the Chargers.
Even though Kaepernick played against mostly second-stringers, he did what he was supposed to do for someone who considers himself ready to be a starter for the 49ers. He finished the game 12-of-18 passing with 158 yards, two touchdowns and a 131.2 QB rating. For the first time in his young career, he looked comfortable passing in the shotgun formation, rolling out and most importantly, passing from the pocket. In the first quarter, Kaepernick showed his arm strength by rolling left and throwing across his body to tight end Delaine Walker for a 32-yard touchdown, giving the 49ers a 14-0 lead. In the second quarter, the quarterback led another drive ending with a touchdown pass. Similar to the first touchdown pass, Kaepernick rolled out again, this time to the right and threw on the run to A.J. Jenkins, who was wide open in the end zone for a touchdown. Kaepernick’s throw was a bullet and perfectly hit Jenkins in the hands.
Without a doubt Alex Smith is the 49ers starting quarterback and no controversy was created with Kaepernick’s performance. But Smith is now on notice. Should he not perform at least up to how he played last season, Niner fans will quickly call for Kaepernick to enter the game. And if that happens, the 49ers will be in good hands.
Most of the attention for the 49ers was supposed to be on the other backup quarterbacks, Johnson and Scott Tolzien. Both are competing for the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart. Johnson entered the game after Kaepernick in the third quarter and out played Tolzien. Needing to have a big game to ensure a roster spot, Johnson completed his first seven passes for 102 yards, which included a 51-yard touchdown pass to receiver Nathan Palmer. His second touchdown pass was a 3-yard lob to tight end Garrett Celek, giving the 49ers a 35-0 lead in the third quarter. Johnson finished with 125 passing yards and ran for 50 yards on five carries. In comparison, Tolzien was 3-of-8 passing with 42 yards and an interception. There is a slim chance Jim Harbaugh could keep four quarterbacks on the regular season roster. If there will be one quarterback cut from the roster, it will Tolzien because of Johnson’s performance in the game.
Other highlights in the game included the backup safeties finally stepping up in the preseason and nose tackle Will Tukuafu. Let’s start with Tukuafu. In the third quarter he entered the game as a fullback on offense and used all of his 293 pounds to block Chargers linebacker James Mouton. It was more than your typical block, but as Harbaugh described it, “one of the best isolation blocks I’ve ever seen”. Indeed, the block was impressive and it allowed Anthony Dixon to rush for a six-yard gain. The way Tukuafu played last night and in the other preseason games at nose tackle and fullback, has assured him a spot on the regular season roster.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has said in the past he is waiting for a backup safety to emerge out of the pack. In the win, three safeties provided a spark in the first quarter with a strip, fumble recovery and an interception. C.J. Spillman stripped Chargers tight end Antonio Gates after an 11-yard reception and Trenton Robinson picked up the football returning it 22-yards. This led to Kaepernick’s first touchdown pass. On the next drive Darcel McBath intercepted Philip Rivers and returned it for 19 yards. All of this took place in a four-minute span in the first quarter. The three backup safeties answered Fangio’s call and thus made the task of who to keep and who to cut harder for the coaches.
The 49ers will release their regular season roster at 6:00 p.m. on Friday. Check back to Niner Noise for the full roster and comments on who was cut.