While Alex Smith was handling himself well in San Francisco this season, the emergence of second-year backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a viable starter has forced the 49ers to continue to play the young star.
Smith has been cleared from the concussion that forced the 49ers to sit him in Week 11, but the composure of Kaepernick and his ability to make plays with his legs made the decision for head coach Jim Harbaugh and the entire staff easy.
Barring injury, Smith should never start again for the 49ers.
San Francisco’s offensive plan was always based off the idea of protecting Smith from making mistakes, but that didn’t allow the play-calling to stretch beyond very basic schemes. The 49ers were helping Smith compensate for his lack of elite talent, but it was obvious the QB wasn’t the right fit.
Kaepernick is a completely different animal.
While San Francisco will continue to play a more basic style of offense to limit the mistakes of the second-year QB, the fact that Kaepernick can use his legs to get out of the pocket and make defenses pay for leaving a lane open is something Smith simply couldn’t do.
There is no doubt Smith has the ability to scramble, but he doesn't break huge runs into the open field. In nine games, the former starter had 134 yards rushing. In comparison, Kaepernick has 214 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in his limited action this season.
Harbaugh told Robert Klemko of USA Today about what option plays from Kaepernick—like the one the 49ers used on Sunday—add to the offense:
He has a real knack for it. He has a special ability, honed it in college and has taken it to the pro level. He can cover ground real fast, and he has an eye for making the read. He came with that ability. I take no credit for that one.
The passing aspect of each star’s game is about the same, but there is so much upside from a player like Kaepernick that has been in the league for just two years and already shows elite decision making.
Smith has been in the league for long enough that officials and teams across the NFL know that he will never become an elite QB; half the time he is hardly mediocre.
As long as Kaepernick stays healthy, Harbaugh must ride his hand-picked heir to the throne all the way to the Promised Land. At the end of the season, the 49ers will be moving Smith, one way or another.
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