San Francisco 49ers: How QB Colin Kaepernick Has Already Improved for 2013
His all-encompassing physical talent is transcendent as a standalone feature, but the mental drive that continually engineers his forward progress makes him a once-in-a-lifetime specimen.
In a brand new role in 2013, the ‘Niners third-year signal-caller flipped the switch to veteran mode this offseason and got to work at a pace that was second to none. Let’s take a look at the reports so far this offseason regarding Kaepernick’s progress heading into his first full campaign as the No. 1 quarterback.
As a Rusher…
Whether it's Marshawn Lynch, Darren Sproles or Peyton Hillis, every NFL runner has a unique style based on his body type. Most players, by the time they’ve reached college, have learned to use their physique to their advantage. For a long but toned 6’4”, 230-pound Kaepernick, there is a lot to work with.
Don’t you find it a bit peculiar that one of the league’s most prolific runners is not a running back nor does he have any track background to speak of?
Where does the speed come from?
As a quarterback, where did he find the time to develop that facet of his game?
Moreover, why do his runs have that distinctive look?
In a terrific exploratory article by Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News, the columnist, along with the Bay Area News Group, dug deep into Kaepernick’s true origins as a runner by seeking the opinions of several Olympic sprinters. Two-time 400-meter hurdles gold medalist Edwin Moses speculated—and Kaepernick confirmed—that plyometric training was the foundation of his ability as a rusher.
Also known as “jump training,” plyometrics were originally developed for Olympic athletes (via Web MD), which certainly explains Moses’ familiarity with that style of a runner.
First and foremost, the exercise method is grounded on extreme training in which the muscles are repeatedly stretched and suddenly contracted, exerting maximum force on every repetition. It involves a lot of jumping and circuits, designed to increase muscle power for fast, explosive movements.
This is where Kaepernick’s burst, acceleration and top gear comes from.
Overall, his running has been strengthened by these exercises, and since he has no prior running experience outside of it, it has defined him as a fast, powerful runner. The grace is there, but it is not as prevalent as it is in Robert Griffin III, who was a renowned world-class hurdler/sprinter.
The plyometrics also explain why Kap’s stride has that springiness to it; it has lots of bounce, sort of vaulting him forward, which translates into that incredible pull-away speed you see on Sundays. In Brown’s column, “Colin Kaepernick and his Usain Bolt-like stride,” he explains how the lower body strength combined with his long legs helps the 49ers quarterback cover more ground.
In his now-infamous 56-yard touchdown versus the Packers, Kaepernick covered the last 40 yards of field in 15 steps. Former Green Bay defensive back Charles Woodson (6’1”, 210 lbs.) needed 20 steps. This kind of dangerous open-field ability ultimately results in a lot of big plays, putting both shorter and heavier defenders at a disadvantage.
As ESPN originally pointed out, famed scrambling quarterback Michael Vick has only had three runs of 50-plus yards in his 10-year career, while Kap had three in his last 41 carries leading up to the Super Bowl.
Since the 49ers coaches locked their QB up until the postseason, the clinic versus the Packers was the first full display of his ability, and it certainly won’t be the last. The playbook is now wide open and expanding. Not to mention, Kap will only continue to add horsepower with his rigorous workout regimen.
Weight-training aside, the 49ers quarterback has worked on perfecting his technique as a runner in 2013, going out of his way to spend time training with Olympic sprinters this offseason, via Peter King of the MMQB:
I trained with a few Olympic runners and jumpers. Just to try to get a little bit faster, a little bit better. Anything I could do to try to get a little bit better and stay ahead of the competition. I think the biggest thing was the form of running and how to be more efficient when I run. I feel like that has helped me to this point, and its something I’m trying to improve on more and more, but I think those few weeks with them were very valuable.
By seeking out first-rate athletes that possess a fundamental understanding of the craft, Kaepernick was proactive in refining his biomechanics. This season, he will likely have a more fluid motion with his arms and legs working in sync. He probably also received several tips on how to tighten his form, limiting wind resistance and making him more aerodynamic.
In their one-on-one this offseason, Kaepernick told King that he improved his stride, adding, “The way I contact the ground. There are a lot of details to running that I never even thought about. I just went out and ran. I think I can be faster. I think I can be quicker.”
Between his intensive leg workouts and the ability to maximize his stride rate, Kap may evolve into the perfect running machine in 2013.
As a Passer...
#49ers QB Kaepernick speed is not what stood out to me yesterday, was his accuracy & how his throwing motion looked much more natural IMO— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) July 29, 2013
49ers beat writer Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area initially reported that the single-most impressive thing in camp so far is Kaepernick’s touch passes:
Colin Kaepernick's repertoire of pitches is expanding.
This summer, Kaepernick is showing amazing touch on some of the underneath and swing throws he struggled to execute and his teammates struggled to catch a year ago.
And he has not lost his 87-mph fastball, either.
According to Maiocco, and several other sources, it sounds like Kap is only enhancing his arsenal of throws. The consensus last year was that the 49ers quarterback could already hit virtually every throw on the field. Though, if you were to nitpick, there were inconsistencies in his work underneath, which is imperative to total functionality in the West Coast offense.
Everyone knows Kaepernick can chuck it, but if he polishes up his short game, there will not be an inch on the field he can’t attack.
And then this offense will really take off.
Finding No. 85…
As the No. 6 overall pick in 2006, tight end Vernon Davis always had the potential to be a special offensive threat in this league. As an NFL prospect, the 6’3”, 250-pounder posted a 4.38 40-time and maxed out 460 on the bench, via CBS Sports. From top to bottom, Davis was built to do everything—and then some.
Now in his eighth season, Davis is a rounded vet that understands the game like never before and still has that rare athletic ability. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh went as far as to say that the Pro Bowl tight end is at the height of his career, per the team’s official website.
With wide receiver Michael Crabtree (Achilles) out for an extended period of time, the ‘Niners will be looking to Davis for more production in the passing game. To stay ahead of the curve, Kaepernick put in extra time with the freaky pass-catcher, working toward establishing a rhythm.
A lot of Faithful grew fond of the connection between No. 7 and No. 15, but let me be the first to tell you, the link to Davis can be even more prolific. We touched on the tight end’s high potential; not only is he a super talented receiver, but he is a also mismatch on nearly every down (something Crabtree is not).
Truth be told, there is not a single defensive player in the NFL that Davis’ deadly combo of size, strength and speed does not affect.
In his second full 16-game outing, the 49ers TE recorded several career highs. Catching balls from Alex Smith and Shaun Hill, he would finish with a team-best 78 receptions, 965 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2009. His scores that season set a league record for the position. The following year—prior to Harbaugh’s arrival—Davis inched toward 1,000 yards again, averaging 16.3 YPC in the process.
There has been a lot of change from 2011 through 2012, which both limited the tight end’s role and how fast he can play. However, the 49ers are just about over that transitional hump. This past season, Davis began to return to form, putting up the most receptions of 20-plus yards downfield for a TE in the NFL (9), via Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus.
And as most witnessed during their miraculous playoff run, Davis and Kap really caught fire toward the end there. “It takes time to get that connection, that relationship and just to develop something special,” said Davis, via Jimmy Durkin of the San Jose Mercury News. “That's what training camp is all about. It's about developing that relationship.”
The word from Santa Clara, Calif. is that these two are clicking big time.
“He’s gotten a lot better. Keep in mind we had minicamp and OTAs as well. So we had an opportunity to get some things corrected and get our timing to where we wanted it to be. Now that we’re in training camp, it’s even better,” Davis told the media.
Much like Crabtree a year ago, Davis may see his full potential as a receiving threat in this league in 2013. The hot report out there comes from Matt Barrows of the The Sacramento Bee, who unequivocally declares No. 85 as San Francisco’s "most consistent deep threat."
As a Leader…
In his first offseason as the starter, Kaepernick has begun to embody the identifiable qualities of a franchise quarterback, which most notably includes the ability to lead. It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to take the reins of a near-billion-dollar NFL franchise at 25 years old—one with such rich history—and say, “We’re going to do it my way.”
It speaks to his confidence, having been able to assert himself like that. Davis said, per 49ers.com:
He’s talking more. He’s being a leader. He’s working hard. He’s working extremely hard. I don’t know if you guys know, but he’s not just a worker on the field, he’s also a worker in the weight room. Every time I turn around, he’s working. And that’s the unique thing about this situation, with having Kaepernick, you’re going to get 110 percent out of this guy.
Some players like to talk and some lead by example, but the 49ers quarterback is doing both in spades, and it has been an evident story in training camp. On game day, his teammates have seen that he is a winner, but for the first time off the field, they are witnessing how.
The fact that Kap is working harder than everyone else has raised the bar once again, akin to Jim Harbaugh’s initial arrival in 2011. It has been a total offensive takeover by the ‘Niners signal-caller, who wants to be able to orchestrate his offense as well as the other elites in the league.
Here are a few examples of his leadership:
1. Teaching the Offense
One instance of this is how Kaepernick opened his home to wide receiver Ricardo Lockette, giving the third-year UDFA a place to stay. On top of that, he genuinely wants to see his new roomie succeed in the National Football League, going above and beyond to educate him on the intricacies of this offense.
Lockette first revealed details about Kap’s stick-to-it-iveness to The Albany Herald back in June when he talked about their living situation. He provided an insider's perspective into one of the most interesting men in sports today, which turned out to be what football enthusiasts hoped it’d be.
We do everything together. We have basketball goals around the house and bet each other with those. We play Madden and Call of Duty, but when we aren’t doing that we pop quiz each other about the playbook. I might be in the shower and he might walk by the bathroom and yell, ‘Hey, what do you have on Colorado 750?’ I will tell him a route, but if it’s wrong he will come in and throw something over the shower curtain.
Even when he is away from the facility, it is all football for Kaepernick. It’s 24/7. He even wants to win so badly that he goes beyond working on himself. He invests time in other players’ games because he understands that if he can help his offensive brethren, the team as a whole has a better chance of being successful.
Lockette is just one player he has helped.
Up-and-comers like A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton and Vance McDonald will all benefit from the same treatment, while veterans have a chance to take their games to a new level by working directly with Kaepernick. The offense is evolving around No. 7, so his ability to get his guys in lockstep in essential.
2. First One in the Door, Last to Leave
"I see that with Kap. He’s universally respected and loved by his teammates. People relate to him. They like his company. They like being around him. I’ve noticed that very much from our team. For a leader to be effective, they’ve got to be followed by most of the group that he’s leading. Colin Kaepernick definitely has that love and respect from his teammates." – Coach Jim Harbaugh (via 49ers.com)
Kaepernick’s work ethic has largely commanded this respect.
According to reports from Matt Barrows on the 49ers beat, Kaepernick routinely arrives to the facility in Santa Clara as early as 5:55 a.m. As one of the first on site, the star QB parks his white Jaguar in the spot nearest the entrance. Over time, that $92,000 sports car has since become as inspirational as the “Forty Niner Way” sign on the way out to the practice field.
By the time the majority arrives for the day’s work, No. 7 is already roaming the halls in the morning, drinking his protein shake, pumped from already having finished his workout. It motivates others just to try and keep pace.
His work ethic and unique personality helps him connect with every single face in that locker room.
Even though he is a new-era player, Kaepernick brings an old school mentality to the game, really emphasizing the fundamental aspects of quarterbacking (not just on the field). He appreciates the inherent duties of the position, going above and beyond to execute them.
This is a huge statement by Kaepernick as to the kind of player he will be for the next 10 years.
3. Working on His Own Imperfections
A lot of people are ready to say Kap is elite, and talent-wise, they may be right. But to really earn that label, you need a definitive track record. It isn’t given. It also isn’t fair to guys like Matt Ryan and Eli Manning, who have done it year in and year out and still catch flak.
While he appears to be on a fast track to greatness, Kaepernick had plenty to keep him busy in the offseason. Because unlike Ryan and Manning, the 49ers quarterback is still not quite broken in yet. He does not have that veteran polish from years of experience and lots of self-study.
This is Kaepernick’s first NFL offseason where he’s had a legitimate body of work to examine. During that process, he has stayed humble, working toward eliminating his flaws and rounding his game out. As mentioned prior, Kap recognized his short game was lacking and immediately went to work on it.
He knew that his chemistry with Vernon Davis lacked, so he made it a priority.
A self-aware quarterback with an exhaustive work ethic is how the Tom Brady’s and Joe Montana’s of the world come to be. This adaptability also makes Kaepernick capable of skirting future career obstacles, evolving with the times. In a nutshell, this is the “get better every day” mantra Harbaugh preaches.
As San Francisco’s most valuable asset right now, his attitude toward his own game is infectious to those around him. Kap’s unpretentious nature breathes that purity back into the team, proving that you’re never too good to stop going hard. In that respect, his 49er teammates will be better because of him.
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