Colin Kaepernick: How Nevada's Pistol Offense Transformed a QB into an NFL Star

Michael PatmasCorrespondent IIIJanuary 21, 2013

Kaepernick "pistol whipped" the Packers
Kaepernick "pistol whipped" the PackersHarry How/Getty Images

OK, it's time for me to come "out of the closet," so to speak. Over the past few years, I have written articles for B/R under the pen name "Hard Truth," mostly about Nevada football but especially about their gifted QB, Colin Kaepernick.

Now that Kap has electrified NFL fans, some of the articles I wrote nearly three years ago have gone viral. One in particular about why Kaepernick was the best QB in the 2011 draft has garnered nearly 30,000 reads and a lot of comments, mostly in the past week. So I decided it was time to reveal my true identity.

Why did I use a pen name? At the time, I was living in Boise, and being a Nevada Wolf Pack fan in Bronco country is like being a Republican in San Francisco—you won't make a lot of friends! Boise State fans are very passionate about their Broncos, and they really don't like Nevada. So with the courage of the lion in The Wizard of Oz, I adopted a pen name.

But I have newfound courage. "Hard Truth" has retired.

But what about Kaepernick and the "pistol"? By now we all know the story: the overlooked Nevada QB gets drafted by San Francisco as a backup and, midway through his second season, takes the starting role away from Alex Smith in what was a very risky and controversial move by coach Jim Harbaugh.

Besides his obvious athleticism, running ability and passing skills, how is it that Kaepernick has been so successful? After all, he is not the only dual threat out there.

There are a host of NFL QBs who can run as well as they pass. Why has Kaepernick excelled? Certainly, he has the skills, smarts and a great team surrounding him, from the players to the coaching staff. But I believe there is something more that accounts for his success—Nevada's "pistol offense."



This unique offensive scheme was the brain child of legendary Hall of Fame Nevada head coach Chris Ault, who retired recently after some 40 years as a coach and athletic director. Coach Ault came up with the pistol offense in 2005.

It had an almost immediate impact, and since deploying it, Nevada has been among the nation's best rushing teams, more than once leading the nation in rushing. This has not gone unnoticed, and within a few years, Ault's "pistol" was being copied by several other college teams. 

But it is still quite new to the NFL. Kaepernick had four years with Ault at Nevada and knows the pistol better than any QB in the game.

So, what exactly is the pistol offense?

It's similar to the shotgun, except that the QB lines up three yards behind the center, with the running back typically lined up behind him.

A myriad of plays can be run out of this formation. For one, the QB can hand off to the running back, who then hits the line of scrimmage between the tackles at full speed, typically delivering at least three to four yards per carry. Alternatively, the QB has the option to fake the handoff, pass the ball or run with it.

If you have a mobile and speedy QB, the pistol wreaks havoc on defenses. Just ask Aaron Rodgers about that. They had no answer for it and 181 rushing yards and an NFL record later, Kaepernick pistol-whipped the Green Bay Packers



Harbaugh drafted Kaepernick not only for his abilities but also for his intangibles, not the least of which is his knowledge of the pistol offense. Dual threats have been around as long as the game but have frankly never gotten the same degree of respect as the "real" QBs—the so-called "pocket passers."

But with the pistol, a dual-threat QB gets many of the same advantages as the running back: three yards or so to get up a head of speed, and if he can pick up blockers, find a hole or turn the corner, it's off to the races. The pistol offense unleashes the dual-threat QB.

San Francisco has been using Kaepernick in the pistol intermittently and keeping opposing defenses off balance with it. So far, no one in the NFL has an answer for it. 

I'm a huge Kaepernick fan, and I don't mean this to diminish his talent whatsoever, but I think that the pistol offense has a lot to do with his success. It's a perfect offense for someone like Colin, and the genius of Jim Harbaugh was not only in drafting Kaepernick, but in adopting the pistol as well.

Kaepernick is getting the headlines and deservedly so. But Coach Ault and the Nevada pistol offense are playing a big part in his success and, in some ways, changing the NFL before our eyes.