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San Francisco 49ers: 3 Ways Kaepernick Will Continue to Earn Snaps This Season

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San Francisco 49ers: 3 Ways Kaepernick Will Continue to Earn Snaps This Season
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
49ers QB Colin Kaepernick bursts into the open field in a Week 4 win over the Jets

Aside from one snap in the season opener, 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick hadn't even stepped foot onto the field during the first three games of his second NFL season.

Now, the dual-threat signal-caller is putting up numbers that might soon earn him a spot on a few fantasy football teams. 

And he's doing it from all over the field. 

The "WildKap" (h/t Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News) is what they're calling it. And naturally, fans want more. Kaepernick is averaging 10.6 yards per carry on the year (103 total rushing yards) and he's made an all-expense-paid trip to the end zone in consecutive weeks. 

Why would the 49ers stop now?

Keep in mind, this article has nothing to do with Kaepernick potentially unseating Alex Smith as the starter in San Francisco. Given the way Smith has played through five games this season, inserting the second-year QB into a full-time role is likely the last thing on Jim Harbaugh's mind.

Kaepernick's presence in the offense is not meant to replace Smith but rather to complement him and the rest of the 49ers' offensive weapons.

Anyway, outside of a second-quarter fumble this past Sunday, Kaepernick hasn't shown his coaches any reason not to continue utilizing his unique skill set. 

Let's look at three different ways Kaepernick will continue to earn snaps throughout the duration of the season. 

 

Kaep's Fleet Feet

How convenient that the 49ers waited until Week 4 in a game against Tim Tebow and the Jets to unleash the newest wrinkle to Greg Roman's offense. 

Kaepernick—the 6'3", 233-pound Nevada product who ran a faster 40-yard dash (4.53 seconds) at the 2011 NFL combine than Cam "Superman" Newton (4.59 seconds)—can flat out move. 

That much we knew. 

He's actually been clocked as low as 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, according to an article from NFL.com's Jason La Canfora in August of 2011. But how would Roman, the 49ers offensive coordinator, be able to incorporate his abilities into the offense without disrupting its flow? 

Now we know. 

The 49ers have used Kaepernick's versatility in numerous ways already. His first play against the Jets was a direct snap that turned into a read-option, which ended up in a 17-yard gain. I was going to break the play down, but NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah already did so—and in brilliant fashion, I might add.

Whether it be with sweeps, read-options or play-action passes, Roman used Kaepernick in several different ways the past two weeks. 

 

A Cannon of an Arm

Kaep's got wheels, but he's also equipped with a big-league arm. Literally. As a high school pitcher, Kaepernick's fastball was clocked at 94 mph, prompting the Chicago Cubs to pick him in the 2009 major league baseball draft. (via KNBR.com and sfgate.com)

We've seen it unleashed in each of the last two games, but both of his deep balls fell incomplete. Not because they couldn't have been caught; both passes were placed where his intended receiver could have made a play. The defensive backs just made the plays first. 

Kaepernick's deep pass to tight end Vernon Davis in Week 5 was particularly intriguing. As you can see below, Kaep lines up wide to the right with Smith under center.

Just before the snap, Smith sends Kaep in motion back toward the middle of the field. As the ball is snapped, Smith pitches it to Kaepernick as he continues in motion toward the other side of the field, drawing a good portion of the Bills defense to that side. 

Davis, who started on the left side of the line, runs across the middle before turning it into one of his patented wheel routes up the right sideline. Kaep sees him with only one defender in the area, stops his momentum and fires a cross-field bomb toward his intended target. 

The defensive back was able to make a play, and a catch wouldn't have counted because of an offensive penalty, but that's not the point. 

This is just another the way the 49ers are able to get their Pro Bowl TE open in space and able to make a big play. There are plenty of defensive units out there that play with much more discipline than the Bills, and San Francisco has several of them waiting on the schedule, but a play like this is still nearly impossible to defend if executed correctly. 

 

Injury Insurance

Aside from a sprained finger in Sunday's game, Alex Smith has been the beneficiary of good health (I say this with my non-sprained fingers crossed) and has started every game of the Harbaugh era.

No matter what the 49ers have him doing, any NFL action that Kaepernick can get while Smith is healthy will go a long way for the youngster's confidence should be called on if the starter does go down.

Not to the extent that it disrupts the flow, however, but at this point Kaep's presence has only led to increased production from the offense. Plus, Smith is smart enough to see how much more dynamic the offense becomes with a handful of Kaepernick's athleticism sprinkled in. 

It's not that they need it to move the ball. But it works so well, it's hard not to want more. 

Of course, Harbaugh and the 49ers aren't throwing Kaepernick in the game just so he's better prepared in the event that Smith goes down. He's being used because he's a legitimate threat and a complete headache for defenses to game-plan against. 

Right now, the Niners are getting the best of both quarterbacks without exposing the worst of either. Smith's impressively deep knowledge of the offense and unique ability to protect the football have been on display. Now the coaching staff is mixing in Kaep's speed, size and arm strength without putting the team in a situation where his inexperience can hurt it.

Harbaugh and Roman love to use every weapon they have at their disposal, seemingly outside of Randy Moss. But as they say, that's a story for another day. 

What the 49ers are doing on offense, especially with the "Kapper" on the field, is working. 

As long as you can remain unpredictable—which this coaching staff has proven time and time again they're completely capable of doing—there's no reason to turn back now. 

 

All Screenshots Courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.

Add Brandon on Twitter: @B_Burnett49er

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