For Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers, they prefer to take things one day at a time, one game at a time. However, for the sake of the fan base, it’s interesting to prematurely explore topics that will inevitably come up at some point.
With the 2012-13 NFL postseason upon us, and the Niners guaranteed a spot, many are wondering if San Francisco has what it takes to bring home a sixth championship this year.
For most, injuries, play calling and a three-game curse are in the back of people’s minds. The Niners have a handful of significant players that will be dinged up in the postseason, or not available at all. Justin Smith (tricep), Vernon Davis (head), Kendall Hunter (ankle), Kyle Williams (knee) and Mario Manningham (knee) will leave the 49ers shorthanded to one degree or another.
Moving on, the Niners are heading into this postseason with a second-year QB that has all of six starts under his belt. In that time, Colin Kaepernick has emerged with a 4-2 record, including losses to two divisional opponents (St. Louis and Seattle).
He has also thrown 8 touchdowns to 3 interceptions, while posting three games with a 100-plus passer rating. It’s clear the youngster is still developing, but has already brought a great deal of upside to the table. The 49ers have shown explosiveness on the offensive side of the ball, and the wide receivers have become more of a factor – particularly Michael Crabtree.
And even though it is early in his career, the staff has shown their confidence in him. They have leaned on him, asking him to generate a good part of San Francisco’s offense. The quarterback position is a demanding one and opposing teams won’t show mercy because he lacks experience.
So despite San Francisco’s own setbacks, and the league being a dog-eat-dog environment, does Kaepernick have the ability to rise and overcome?
The Niners will ask him to try and win a Super Bowl right now. That’s a lot to ask – or is it? As the postseason picture takes focus, there are a number of teams requesting similar from their signal-callers.
The Seahawks, Vikings, Bengals, Redskins and Colts all have young players behind center. Russell Wilson (24), Christian Ponder (24), Andy Dalton (25), Robert Griffin III (22) and Andrew Luck (23) have all helped put their teams in position to compete for a title this year – obviously some more than others.
Unlike the rest, Kaepernick, 25, has not had an entire season to adjust and grow. This could be a real factor. For instance, take a look at the growth we’ve seen from the NFC West’s own Russell Wilson. He has evolved before our eyes, learning by doing.
Wondering if Kaepernick has the "it" factor to get it done in his first time around, we can rewind the tapes 10 years. In 2000, the New England Patriots drafted Tom Brady in the sixth round (No. 199 overall), where he was a backup to QB Drew Bledsoe.
A year later, Bledsoe went down in Week 2, opening a window for Brady. With no prior starts, he was going to put his best foot forward, and do what he could to help the team. Brady did not get his first start until Week 3 of the 2001 season, where he began his career 1-1 as a starter for the Pats.
It did not take him a ton of time to find his rhythm and grow within the offense. Brady wound up winning 11 of his 14 starts that season, including a six-game hot streak to close the season before playoff time.
And while we are not trying to directly compare Kaepernick to Brady, it begs the question: can it be done?
Those Patriots teams in the early 2000’s were complete units under head coach Bill Belichick. They put Brady in a position to succeed. In fourteen starts that year, Brady only threw more than 30-plus times in a game on four occasions, where the team went 3-1.
In six starts, Kaepernick has thrown more than 30-plus times in two games, which were both losses.
The concern is the 49ers are leaning on Kaepernick too much, too early. If they allow him to be the player he is within the unit they already had in place, San Francisco can be very dangerous. And long-term, Kaepernick may have the gene or the it factor that so few quarterbacks seem to have nowadays.
The Niners, like the Patriots of early 2000, had the team in place to win the title. At the time, Brady was at the beginning of writing his legend. The staff in New England treated him accordingly, as a sixth-rounder with nothing to lose.
Beyond his obvious physical gifts, there does seem to be something unique about Kaepernick. His maturity, work ethic and team-first attitude is reflective of a high-caliber franchise quarterback.
But the NFL is a funny thing. Anywhere, anytime, anything can happen. He could very well emerge as something special, but until the 49ers know what he is for sure, it would be best to keep this a physical, run-first football team. Now is not the time to lose their identity, no matter what Colin Kaepernick’s destiny is.