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Defining Colin Kaepernick's role

Sunday taught us a lot about Colin Kaepernick's role on this team. Here's one way of evaluating his performance.

Brian Bahr

As absolutely absurd as the 49ers-Rams game was on Sunday, it somewhat ironically cleared up a few points for us: most notably, Colin Kaepernick's role on this team.

After a rough Alex Smith start, there are always a few rumblings about Kaepernick's progress. How many reps has he gotten? With his athletic gifts, surely he could replace Alex? Under Jim Harbaugh's watch? Man, he's probably an elite level QB by now.

To be perfectly honest, my second thought after Smith came out of the game was: hey now, we get to see what Colin can do. This is exciting. That was, of course, after: holy crap, Alex is hurt. Oh. Oh. That's the season. Nice season. Good work guys. We are done.

And after the game, that was probably about right. Even though Kaep had a pretty strong second half, I think we saw a kid brimming with potential - but one who hasn't met that potential yet.

Maybe it's because I have become spoiled by Smith these last couple of years, but I am convinced that ball security from the QB position is absolutely necessary for a successful team. This is a generality, of course, but winning in the NFL isn't about throwing the ball 45 times for 300+ yards. Successful offenses are become much more efficient, and part of that is limiting mistakes.

How did Colin fit into these criteria of evaluation? Pretty well, actually - but it was still a bit disconcerting. He did lose the ball. Fortunately it didn't result in a turnover, but anytime a ball slips out of the QB's hands anywhere near the line of scrimmage, it's cringe-worthy.

And we should expect this more from a QB like Kaepernick. As a man who will run with great frequency, the risk of fumbles is much greater. Now, if he could settle into a pocket passing role, things would be a bit different. But, that would entail limiting his offensive potential stemming from his athleticism - even if a converstion to pocket passer is necessary as he comes closer and closer to starter quality. And this is part of the paradox of Colin the starter. Should he have free rein to run all over the place? Look at the major QBs who have done that. The list is basically titled "unsustainable." Successful QBs pass from the pocket, while occasionally rolling out for specifically designed plays. I think Kaepernick can do this someday. Possibly soon. It will just take some time.

So Sunday taught us that Kaepernick is altogether a darn good back up. He's the type of guy who can come into a game and keep up. The game is still a bit fast for him, and it's clear that reads downfield are a major obstacle for him to overcome. But I have hope. Maybe it's long term hope, but hope nonetheless. Until then, I won't freak out as much when Alex goes down. Kaepernick has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his role as back up.