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Colin Kaepernick: Accounting for the inevitability of injury

The evolution of the quarterback position provides 49er fans with renewed excitement, but is Colin Kaepernick more vulnerable to injury? We look at why Kap is more prone to injury and what the 49ers must do to protect him.


49er fans weathered probably one of the most heated QB controversies in recent years. Everyone had an opinion, but few disputed the talent of the young Colin Kaepernick. Regardless of how you felt, here we are in 2013. Alex Smith is gone and we finally have our franchise quarterback in Kap.

In times past, we rarely saw the backup quarterback unless the starting QB suffered some type of injury. While that still holds true, teams molded the backup quarterback to eventually take the reins. This grooming process took years.

Backup quarterbacks didn't just learn offensive techniques from their predecessors, but how to stay safe. They learned when and how to get rid of the ball. They watched their offensive line protect the quarterback and calculated how to read the opposing defense. It took years to study the most important position on the field.

That is no longer the case. We see a range of young, mobile quarterbacks who have incredible speed, agility and athleticism. Teams are putting them in immediately, and they are expected to either sink or swim. You cannot exactly blame the coaches for this evolution. It is pretty straight forward. If another guy gives the team a better chance at winning, why wouldn't they put him in? Still, having an inexperienced quarterback at the helm can cripple a team.

It perturbed most 49er fans when Kaepernick had difficulty taking a snap from under center. He spent his college career in the Pistol and had almost no experience with it. I felt every second at the line. Tick. Tick. Tick. But, the center exchange, poor decision making and clock management has never been my biggest concern.

Kap is going to get hurt. It is almost a mathematical certainty. The question is how badly? An injured Kaepernick is not something 49ers fans want to contemplate. While it is absolutely true Kap is a tough, muscular kid, he's certainly not built to run over anybody. When he gets out of the pocket, he loses 1,600 pounds of offensive linemen put there to protect him. His mobility is exciting and very fun to watch; That is, until he suffers a season-ending injury like RGIII.

And it doesn't help that these young, mobile quarterbacks think they're invincible. Joe Flacco said in a pre-Super Bowl press conference (likely referencing Kaepernick), that young QBs have to learn to stay in the pocket where they're protected to "survive in this league." That statement is a real proclamation. And coupled with the fact there are guys in the league who will go after Kap hard with the intent to hurt him, it is especially true.

As much as I hate to bring up Tom Brady, I cannot help it. He was a mobile quarterback. After Brady suffered a serious injury, he came back a different player. Every time I watch him, he is sliding. It annoys football fans, because he's relinquishing a few yards here and a few yards there. And, those yards add up. But, at least he's protecting himself.

Kaepernick, on the other hand, is not ignoring the risk. Rather, he doesn't even consider it. The 49ers coaching staff must find a way to protect Kaepernick from himself.

The playbooks are likely being reworked this offseason. Kaepernick will have to be more versatile with his throws. He will have to throw proficiently from both feet. Acquiring the skill of throwing from his back foot will be necessary, in case the pocket collapses.

Not only will Kaepernick have to play smarter, but he is going to have to really command his offense. If he is not fully comfortable with reading the defense, he is at greater risk of getting hurt.

More importantly, the offensive coaching has to create new escape lanes. Every wide receiver must be absolutely dialed-in, so he can get rid of the ball. If there is a weakness with a wide receiver reading how he's being covered or doesn't pick the appropriate route after the play has started, it could be disastrous for our quarterback. Kaepernick is vulnerable. Play calling matters. It will take the entire team to keep him healthy.