San Francisco 49ers: Battle for Backup QB Spot Is a Great Problem to Have
Most of you are probably well aware by now that, for once, Alex Smith was the unquestioned starting quarterback entering training camp, and, barring an injury, will remain top dog leaving it as well.
But with one question regarding the QB position answered, another arises. Perhaps even two, really.
Who will be Smith's primary backup throughout the regular season? Consequently, who's going to back up that backup?
Second-year Nevada product Colin Kaepernick was drafted in 2011 and instantly tabbed as the franchise QB of the future, but that vision has been temporarily put to rest (per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area) as a result of Alex Smith's stranglehold on the top spot.
Not only is "Kapper" looking like a long shot to take over the reins anytime soon, his spot as Alex's primary replacement could be in jeopardy as well.
Former undrafted free agent Scott Tolzien has been sharp for all of training camp, and it showed in the preseason opener. He seems surprisingly comfortable running the offense, has always had solid accuracy and even improved his arm strength—so it appears.
We've seen a little good and a little bad from Johnson so far, but he was the fourth QB to enter Friday night's preseason game and only threw four passes. According to Harbaugh, (per Matthew Barrows of The Sacramento Bee) he'll take the field as the No. 3 option Saturday night against Houston.
Of course, Kaepernick remains the most intriguing option of the three—from a potential standpoint, at least. We saw his blazing speed on display Friday night when he ripped off a 78-yard TD run two plays into his first drive. Believe it or not, the 49ers actually went no-huddle leading up to this play.
Shocking, right? Kind of makes you wonder if Harbaugh would've continued the no-huddle look had Kaepernick not taken it to the house in such a damn hurry.
What? I wanted to see more!
Also, Harbaugh recently stated that Kaepernick is "emerging" as the No. 2 option on the depth chart, which is probably to be expected at this point.
Said Harbaugh, per Alex Espinosa from the 49ers' official team website:
I would say Colin has emerged there, it’s been very good. Nothing is set in stone in that regard, but there has been some emergence. The rest will play out.
There has been some noticeable improvement from Kaepernick this offseason. Though it is still a bit slow and slightly awkward, he has shortened and sped up his delivery to a small degree.
Plus, the best way to speed up a player's development is to throw him into live action as much as possible—preferably in games that don't count.
But he still looks to run too often, from what we've seen and heard. Players on the 49ers defense have even joked that Kaepernick would rather run the ball than throw it downfield.
Who do you think should back up Alex Smith?
Is it because he's not confident making his reads? He looked slow at times on Friday, but better on other throws.
Don't get me wrong, I get excited seeing him tuck it and run because of the skill set he possesses, but Harbaugh will get him his chances to play running back. Not literally, of course, but what I'm saying is that he and offensive coordinator Greg Roman will find ways to incorporate Kaepernick's speed into the offense from time to time.
My point is, we now have talented receivers capable of creating separation and scoring points, and the goal is to get them the ball.
Tolzien has been able to do just that. Heck, if it wasn't for two blatant drops from rookie receivers and an interception on a throw where his arm was hit, the dude could've finished 13-of-13 on Friday night.
No wonder 49ers safety Donte Whitner is now calling him, "Baby Drew Brees."
I do understand, of course, that Tolzien has a long way to go in order to convince Harbaugh and Roman he's the best-fitting backup for Alex. And Johnson has three more preseason games to show them what he's got, too.
Call me crazy, but right now, my 49ers' QB depth chart would read like this:
1. Alex Smith
2. Scott Tolzien
3. Colin Kaepernick
4. Josh Johnson
The 49ers will likely only keep three QBs on the 53-man roster, meaning that if I was calling the shots, Tolzien would enter the game in the event of an injury to Alex and Johnson wouldn't even make it past final cuts.
You're probably thinking I am extremely ill-equipped to be making such decisions, but hear me out.
If Alex has to leave the game, who do you trust more to keep the offense flowing? Remember, nothing is set in stone and we're only entering Week 2 of preseason football.
But if you saw the game unfold on Friday, you have to, at the very least, see some potential in Tolzien. Nearly all of his passes were dead on the mark, and he was getting the ball out on time, every time.
Sure, he isn't as light on his feet as Kaepernick, and he doesn't exactly have a cannon, either. But what I'm seeing is a quarterback equipped with exactly what Harbaugh needs to run an efficient offense.
An offense, once again, that boasts a strong stable of running backs, an elite tight end and a slew of playmaking wide receivers.
Remember, this is an offense that doesn't need big plays from the quarterback position to succeed. Harbaugh enjoys a low-risk approach, and Kaepernick just doesn't seem mentally prepared to consistently meet those demands. Not right now, anyway.
There's still plenty of time for these guys to impress, though, so I'll stop getting ahead of myself and let you make your own assessments.
Either way, it's nice to have such an impressive group of signal-callers in San Francisco. The heated competition is surely going to bring the best out of them all.
It's not the best group of quarterbacks the 49ers have ever had in camp, but it's a refreshing change of pace in comparison to recent history.
That's for sure.
This article was first published at Bay Area Sports News.
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