Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Following the big-time win in the divisional round, 49ers All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis gives his perspective on quarterback and teammate Colin Kaepernick.
As the Niners were entering this postseason, the big question for them was at quarterback. A lot of folks were not sold on Colin Kaepernick. And the fact that he only had 7 career starts and no playoff experience did not inspire much confidence.
However, the 49ers starting QB answered a lot of those questions on Saturday night. After a rocky start against the Green Bay Packers - throwing a pick-6 to Sam Shields and getting behind early - Kaepernick played like a man possessed.
His final stat-line was unreal, as it clearly illustrated how he put this offense on his back to outscore Aaron Rodgers and the Pack.
On 33 plays (17 completions, 16 rushes), Kaepernick totaled 444 yards and four touchdowns. In a head-to-head match-up, this was double the production of the reigning league MVP.
The second-year player put on a mind-blowing performance that not only won San Francisco the game, but also had other GM's and scouts around the league re-thinking the way they evaluate talent. This new wave of quarterback could be revolutionary and I would expect a further change in the landscape immediately - meaning 2013.
But Kaepernick's don't grow on trees, mind you. He is a rare breed of quarterback that is a true-to-life dual-threat because he is capable of winning games strictly with his arm. The long, lean frame and a track speed are an added bonus and can be deadly when setup properly.
From a defender's point of view, how difficult is it to play against a quarterback like QB Colin Kaepernick?
"Put me in a tough one when you ask me about my own teammate. From what we see in practice and from what we see in the game, obviously you see a quarterback run the way that he runs. That's unbelievable. And to see him in practice, you never really see him open up like that in practice. You see them do the offense what they do and whatnot. But, to see him do it in a game, it amazes me. It wows me. And I'm just saying wow, did he just do that. And credit goes to that whole offense to have a guy like [RB] Frank [Gore] who people have to account for. And then Kap's doing what he's doing. And before you know it, hopefully they don't know which one to go for. And both of them are running wild, which they did today."
Can you talk about how impressed it is to see him through his development? So much is talked about with guys like Redskins QB Robert Griffin III and Colts QB Andrew Luck. But, those guys are out and Colin's still in it helping you guys out?
"Yeah, just to see how fast he's picked up on the offense, just to see how fast he's picked up on the game period, it's remarkable. And I know that Kap's a guy who works every day and he's very confident in himself, not conceited by any means. But, if you see what we see every day. I get there and, I'm the type of man I don't like to be outworked, but honestly I get there to the facility and he's outside already warming up. And I think he works out every day. I joke with him all the time. I say you've got to be one of the biggest and strongest quarterbacks I've seen. But, he plays the position like a true quarterback. And that's what it's going to take. And I'm just happy to see him do that. And he's done well for us today. And it doesn't stop here. We've got a big game next week wherever we play. And that's our next focus."
You talk about how fast he picks things up, how fast is he though when you see him on the field?
"He's fast. It's just one thing when you see a guy get behind a guy and they try to run and the guy already has a step on him. But, to see a guy come across the field at an angle and he eats up the angle, to us that's fast. That guy's moving. And like I said, it's great to have him doing what he's doing. And not only is his speed remarkable, just to see how he's throwing the ball. Seeing how he's getting behind other guys, that's amazing, too. My hat goes off to that offense, that side of the ball. Like I said, today when our defense was struggling they kept us in there in that second half. We knew if we came back out and we played to the level that they were playing and even higher, then the game would be ours. And that was the outcome. We won."
Willis is describing the total package.
He acknowledges that Kaepernick is a playmaker for the offense, which is an ideal situation, considering he touches the ball on every offensive play. Willis believes Kaepernick is someone defenses have to account for every down. And that in itself is a difficult task since San Francisco has other big-play guys on offense outside the QB.
With the weapons he has around him, there is always a play to be made. If the defense breaks down, he can run right through them -- even the two- and three-yard gains are preferable over sacks.
But I digress.
Willis hammers the point home: what Kaepernick can do physically makes him an enormous burden on defenses. He can wear defenses out, both mentally and physically. And with how far advanced he is at the stage, considering he only has 8 career starts, is incredibly encouraging.
The 49ers linebacker also notes that Kaepernick brings a relentless work ethic, and is one who leads by example. This is great for the team because you need your quarterback to be your hardest worker. Pardon the cliche, but he must be the first guy in the door and the last guy to leave.
Between his physical tools, work ethic and continued development, Kaepernick can become the ultimate weapon for an offense. And having someone like that brings peace of mind for a defense, knowing he's out there capable of making plays and winning games on his own.