The San Francisco 49ers were playing their NFC West opponent, the St. Louis Rams, Nov. 11. San Fran quarterback Alex Smith, the eight-year veteran out of the University of Utah, was playing an almost perfect game, completing seven of eight passes for 72 yards and a touchdown, good for a QB rating of 143.8. However, Smith was pulled from the game in the first half, having been diagnosed with a concussion. That would be that last time Smith would see playing time this year.
Who is the man who replaced him, and why is 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh sticking with him instead of going back to Smith, previously the normal starter who lead them to the NFC Championship Game last year?
Meet Colin Kaepernick, a second year player out of the University of Nevada who is now the starter for the San Francisco 49ers.
Kaepernick lead the Nevada Wolfpack to two bowl games during his college career. He was twice awarded the Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year and was also a First Team All Conference quarterback, twice. Harbaugh must have seen something he liked, having drafted Kaepernick in the second round in what was Harbaugh’s first draft as the 49ers head coach.
Kaepernick is Harbaugh’s quarterback of the future, but he didn’t have a chance to be tested in a real game situation.
Smith did lead San Francisco to the NFC title game one year ago, but he has also been in the NFL as long as Super Bowl XLV’s Most Valuable Player, Aaron Rodgers, and was drafted as the No. 1 pick overall in 2005.
Between the time Smith was drafted and made the playoffs in 2011, he lost his starting role, regained it, and has since been through more head coaches and offensive coordinators than one could care to count.
While it’s true that inconsistent at the start of a career can mean a rough start, but what made everything change for Smith and the team in 2011 than the previous six years?
Jim Harbaugh was hired, and players bought into the system. Smith had the best year of his career, playing in all 16 games for only the second time, posting the highest QB rating, touchdown passes thrown, completion percentage and passing yards of his career. In 2012, his performance was even better; but Kaepernick is in now.
So once again, why is he no longer the starter?
Why was Tom Brady kept in while Drew Bledsoe recovered? Why was Donovan McNabb replaced by Christian Ponder? Why was Tony Romo was put in for — once again — Drew Bledsoe? Was Kurt Warner replaced by Trent Green after the 1999 season?
Out of those four examples, Brady is the one with the most success thus far. Harbaugh must think that Kaepernick has the best chance to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Kaepernicks’s trial run against the Rams in the tie went well when he lead the team to 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to tie the game. Then he trounced Chicago the next week on Monday Night Football, then beat the Saints on the road. He lost his first game this week, which was 30 seconds away from being another tie with the Rams.
So far this year he has thrown only one interception, compared to nine touchdown passes and 65 percent completion. Those are a set of winning quarterback statistics right there.
When a team hires a new general manager, the head coach is usually gone within a short amount of time. I think the same thing is happening in this situation. The new coach stuck with the regular starter who did the best he could and is still performing, but he has now brought in his new guy — the one he hand picked in the draft. All he needed was time to develop Kaepernick and an opportunity to play him.
I’m not saying he is going to be a Tom Brady or Kurt Warner, but his performance in the past few games, combined with Harbaugh’s decision to keep him in the game, even after Smith has been cleared to play, means that Smith’s days with San Francisco are numbered.
Harbaugh has his man: Colin Kaepernick.