San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is yet to play in this preseason due to “shoulder fatigue” in his right throwing shoulder he suffered earlier in training camp. Kaepernick is scheduled to play in tomorrow’s preseason contest versus the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium. What does he need to do to secure the 49ers starting QB job?
Colin Kaepernick has had a very broken offseason so far due to earlier surgeries to his right thumb, left knee and non-throwing shoulder. After mirroring fellow QB Blaine Gabbert’s movements through the OTAs and minicamp, he finally hit the field in training camp and was splitting first-team reps with Gabbert evenly.
However, due to placing stress on this throwing shoulder after not practicing for so long, his shoulder predictably got tired and he has been forced to miss the first two preseason games against the Houston Texans and the Denver Broncos.
Kaepernick needs to do three things well in these last two preseason games to win the starting job (more on this in a minute).
Gabbert, in these two games, has been efficient in limited action (10-of-19 for 132 yards and one touchdown) but more importantly has zero interceptions and has taken zero sacks.
He hasn’t done anything to outright lose the starting QB job.
Kaepernick still believes he can be the team’s starting QB this season, despite all the missed practice time, as he explained to CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco:
"I’m going to go out and show everything I can these next two games and make sure I put my best foot forward to show this organization, this team, this coaching staff what I’m capable of.“(The offense) is very similar to what I did in college. So at this point, I don’t think there’s any reason for me to be cautious or feel uncomfortable in the offense. I’m very excited about what we’re capable of doing and the opportunities we do have."
It’s important he has the confidence to win the job, despite the catching up he has to do. He’s late to the party, but it’s not over for him just yet.
There are three things he needs to focus on and do well to show head coach Chip Kelly he is ready for the responsibility.
He has to show he knows Kelly’s offense
Gabbert has shown good knowledge of Kelly’s system so far in his action on the field. Kaepernick says this offense is like his old college system at Nevada – fine then, go out and show it. You should be able to get this offense in and out of plays in the speed Kelly is looking for. There should be no hesitation or confusion in your decision-making or thinking.
You can take all the “mental reps” in the world. They are important. But in reality, it is what you show on the field which delivers the results. Can he do it? We will have a better idea tomorrow night.
He must be able to progress through his reads
One of the biggest knocks on Kaepernick is he locks onto his first receiver and doesn’t show the ability when under pressure to find his second and third options on the field.
Whether he doesn’t see the field well, or he panics, or it is not in his mental makeup, all the top QBs in the NFL make the necessary reads to succeed on the field and find the open receiver.
Kaepernick has to show he has improved in this area. He needs to show general field awareness when he is both under pressure and not under pressure. There were far too many games last season when he took sacks when his first option was taken away or he would run into trouble, instead of running for opportunity.
Green Bay had the sixth-ranked passing defense last season in the league and had 43 sacks. It is unclear how much Kaepernick will play tomorrow night, but they will provide a good test to see if (and how much) he has improved in this area.
Kelly likes his multi-receiver sets and his running backs to catch balls. Kaepernick should have multiple options when he is asked to pass – he shouldn’t be forced to lock into his first receiver. For any hope of long-term success, he has to show he can find his second or third option when it is required.
Is his head clear?
Kaepernick was benched after Week 8 last season because he wasn’t performing well enough. A 2-6 record, a 59 percent completion rate and just six TD passes said it all.
After being placed on injured reserve with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, later in the offseason Kaepernick requested a trade.
With a deal on the table with the Broncos, Kaepernick’s refusal to take a pay cut from his guaranteed $11.9 million salary for 2016 killed the deal. He has been a good citizen since, saying he his happy to be a part of the 49ers and simply wants to compete for the starting QB job.
But is this really lip service?
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His relationship with general manager Trent Baalke has been frosty at best since the requested trade. He recently had a conversation with Baalke which he described their relationship as a “business relationship” and this is the current point, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
There is no question this relationship is still strained and probably will continue to be whilst one of them is still with the organization working with the other, albeit indirectly.
The major question is whether Kaepernick’s head is on straight. He has been saying all the right things and his demeanor in his press conferences in 2016 have been a complete 180 degree turnaround from the sullen version of him last season.
However we won’t know where is head is until he hits the field in live game action and is put under pressure and has to make the right decisions. How he responds to this pressure will play a major part on him having the opportunity to start at QB for the 49ers in 2016.
If his head is in the right place, he will have a chance. If not, 2016 will be a repeat of 2015.
Tomorrow night’s game will be telling either way.