By defeating the Chicago Bears on Monday night, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick proved to everyone that not only does he have NFL ability, but that keeping him on the sidelines when Alex Smith returns would be a major mistake.
The two-quarterback system is not often a fan favorite. It can divide locker rooms and it typically prompts second-guessing after a loss.
But what about when both quarterbacks being used are talented and capable of leading the team? What happens when both guys have different attributes that can help the team win?
That's the scenario the San Francisco 49ers are looking at as they head into their final six games of the 2012 regular season.
Kaepernick went 16-of-23 for 243 yards and a pair of scores in place of the injured Alex Smith, and the Niners defeated the Chicago Bears, 32-7.
The second-year QB out of Nevada-Reno has immense talent. He can run the ball as well as anyone not named Robert Griffin III (or Michael Vick, if he could stay on the field), and his arm strength matches up with some of the league's best.
He has size (6'4", 230 lbs.) and a coach in Jim Harbaugh who has earned himself quite a reputation for developing quarterbacks.
Just take a look at San Francisco's regular starter Alex Smith, the one-time bust now regarded as an above-average signal-caller.
While Kaepernick has the potential to terrorize defenses week in and week out, Smith has the experience of taking this team to the NFC Championship game after years of failure.
Smith has faced more adversity than most QB's and shown the ability to handle it extremely well.
And before fans begin clamoring for Kaepernick to become the full-time starter, let's not forget that Smith is a former No. 1 overall pick. His talent wasn't apparent during his first five years in the league, but he's no scrub, either.
Kaepernick has played in every game this season, normally appearing as a change-of-pace quarterback who can run the Wildcat. But he's shown everyone that his arm may be as valuable as his legs.
Instead of letting him watch from the sidelines, why not give him the chance to grow on the field?
The 49ers have an excellent running game that takes pressure off whichever QB is in the game. They have a defense that suffocates opponents. They have a supportive coaching staff and a winning culture.
All the quarterback has to do is line up, play mistake-free and manage the game. That's exactly what Smith has done for the past year-and-a-half, and few would argue with the success the team has had.
Now is the time to give Kaepernick a chance, and should he struggle, the team can still be successful by relying on their run game and hard-nosed defense. But should he excel, the 49ers will have the ultimate weapon in the backfield.
Critics of the two-quarterback system have a lot of history to back up their claims that it doesn't usually turn out very well.
What if Smith loses confidence from the ordeal? What if neither quarterback finds their rhythm and it costs them the game?
It's not a plan guaranteed to succeed. But with everything Smith has done for this franchise, now is hardly the time to abandon him for younger potential. Conversely, Kaepernick isn't about to sit and watch while Smith continues to lead this team for the next three or four years.
Both quarterbacks should get time to run the offense.
Smith is fairly mobile, knows the playbook front to back and can make all the throws.
Kaepernick is even faster, has a decent grasp on the playbook and an even bigger arm.
The 49ers are going to make the playoffs with whoever starts at QB. But taking it a step further and reaching the Super Bowl may hinge on Harbaugh's ability to manage his talented quarterbacks.
It may work, and it may not. But the 49ers don't have much to lose and if they stumble upon the right formula, utilizing both Smith and Kaepernick just might result in the Lombardi Trophy making its way back to the Bay.
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