Few outside the inner NFL circles like to admit how important backups QBs are to a team—especially contending ones.
All the attention goes to the relied-upon starters and the young talent being groomed for the future.
But what about the immediate backups? What about the quarterback who is best prepared to take over a playoff-ready team if its established starter goes down?
For a San Francisco 49ers squad with 7:1 Super Bowl odds (via Vegas Insider) placed upon it, having a reliable backup quarterback is tantamount to that potential success if Alex Smith were to succumb to an injury.
With that in mind, who would better fulfill those responsibilities for the 49ers, the more experienced Josh Johnson, or the younger yet superior talent in Colin Kaepernick?
If such a regrettable scenario did indeed present itself, Johnson would serve in a more capable fashion.
Some might scoff at this notion.
They’d say, "Kaepernick has studied Jim Harbaugh’s playbook for over a year; Johnson sure hasn’t."
Perhaps not his actual NFL playbook, but Johnson’s certainly more familiar with his overall offensive system.
Johnson played under Jim Harbaugh when he coached at the University of San Diego from 2004 to 2006. He indoctrinated Johnson into his philosophy during the quarterback’s formative college years.
Like Kaepernick, Johnson studied intently during his “freshman” season. Unlike Kaepernick, Johnson had the opportunity to showcase his knowledge of the system in subsequent years. He did so with eye-popping numbers.
Playing at a lower-division USD or not, Johnson has given more evidence of executing Harbaugh’s system on a more consistent basis.
There’s no denying Kaepernick’s All-World talent and record-setting production at Nevada. Then again, those statistics arose from a college-level pistol offense not used in the NFL ranks.
Harbaugh runs a West Coast, pro-style offense in San Francisco that does not resemble the option-read schematics with which Kaepernick was familiar at Nevada.
Kaep possesses clear maneuverability outside the pocket, but he lacks polished footwork and his intermediate throws suffer because of it. Only his otherworldly speed and deep-ball skills have shown thus far his brief 49er career (including this year’s offseason camps).
Johnson, on the other hand, is a much more polished and accurate passer. He completed an average of 68 percent of his passes and threw a total of 15 interceptions during his career at USD. He’s more adept at making all the throws (not just the deep ball) in Harbaugh’s West Coast system that emphasizes a variety of passes all over the field.
Johnson is simply ahead of Kaepernick and ready to take over when the need arises.
Some might also disregard Johnson’s four years of experience in light of his not-so-stellar numbers.
I’d might agree at first glance. However, we must not discount the value in taking snaps in legitimate NFL games over multiple seasons.
Not only has Johnson filled in as a backup during particular games, he has also started in five throughout his career. He recognizes the complex dynamics occurring on the NFL gridiron—something that Kaepernick has only briefly experienced in preseason games.
Johnson would not be overwhelmed by the NFL stage.
Knows His Place
With that experience comes knowing one’s responsibility and place in the pecking order.
If Smith went down for any period of time, Johnson would operate within his means. He would better understand his role as a backup managing the game behind a stellar running game and league-leading defense.
He wouldn’t be blinded by the prospects of a future starting position as Kaepernick most likely would—and certainly for good reason as a high-round draft pick.
Kaep could easily fall into the trap of trying to prove too much, thereby throwing ill-advised passes and causing turnovers, whether through the air or as a runner.
It is entirely less conceivable that Johnson would do the same.
The prodigious Nevada product should still feel confident in his future role with the team, but the 49ers are better served in the short term with Johnson as the backup QB.
Vegas might then have to alter those Super Bowl odds…but only temporarily.
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