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How Colin Kaepernick Can Resuscitate Lackluster 2013 Season

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How Colin Kaepernick Can Resuscitate Lackluster 2013 Season
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick looks to regain the form he had in 2012.

With the exception of Week 1, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has not exactly wowed the masses thus far into the 2013-14 NFL season.

Here are the numbers five weeks into the year:

He has completed 74 passes of 132 attempts, resulting in a 56.1 completion percentage. Kaepernick has thrown for a total of 969 yards, averaging less than 200 yards per game. Thus far, he has thrown six touchdowns against four interceptions and boasts an uninspiring 81.9 quarterback rating.

Kaepernick reacts to questions regarding fans' tweets about his 2013 performance.

There was his 400-yard performance against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1. Kaepernick then fell flat against the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts in Weeks 2 and 3 respectively, before emerging as what some may refer to a "game manager" in Weeks 4 and 5.

Should all of this be a cause for concern?

Not really.

After the one-quarter mark of the season, this author wrote a piece grading each of San Francisco's on-the-field units. Kaepernick received a C-grade four weeks into the regular season and I cited his maturation and lack of receivers as the principle reasons behind his seemingly lackluster start.

Following his six-completion, 113-yard passing performance against the Houston Texans in Week 5, some could easily state that Kaepernick is not developing the way fans were hoping.

That should stop and there are simple reasons why.

For starters, Kaepernick needed to get back on track after Weeks 2 and 3. The 49ers are a power-running team with an excellent defense. That is what got them to this point. Returning to these basics is what got them wins against Houston and the St. Louis Rams the week before. 

There was no need for Kaepernick to be the star of each game.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Cornerback Tramaine Brock (left) and the 49ers defense were critical in San Francisco's Week 5 victory over Houston.

Let us examine Week 5 versus Houston for an example. The Texans were—and still are—ranked No. 1 in pass defense. On the other hand, they rank 30th in rushing yards against. What was San Francisco's formula against the Texans? It was to utilize a solid defense and to feed running backs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. 

It worked, as pointed out by Christian Gin of Examiner.com.

Yet Kaepernick will need to step up and be the dynamic playmaker that he is capable of being. In time, those games will come. Perhaps it comes against the New Orleans Saints in Week 11. Perhaps it comes earlier.

How exactly does this happen? 

For starters, fans need to stop assuming that Kaepernick is going to throw 30-plus times for 300-plus yards per game. He is not the same type of quarterback in the mold of Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees

Yes, we have seen flashes of his brilliance like what he did in Week 1. But being called upon to perform similarly week after week is simply not San Francisco's game plan.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Kaepernick's game managing has produced wins in Weeks 4 and 5.

What the 49ers do not want Kaepernick to do is cause the 49ers to lose—look no further than Texans quarterback Matt Schaub as an example. If that means simplifying things so that San Francisco wins, no one would complain.

This point is argued by San Jose Mercury News writer Tim Kawakami who states:

The 49ers will need Kaepernick to do a lot more for them, in bigger games than [Week 5]. But on Sunday night, the 49ers and Kaepernick kept it simple, he didn't overreach, and he only completed 6 of 15 pass attempts, for 113 yards—all career lows. He let the 49ers offensive line bowl over the Texans, he set up the 49ers defense, and the result was pure 49ers dominance.

It may not be flashy, but it worked.

As far as that element is concerned, Kaepernick and the 49ers should keep it simple when they can. Low numbers may reflect this approach, as further described by Rant Sports writer Adam Pfeifer, but as long as the 49ers are winning, no one should be that concerned.

The trick is going to be those games when Kaepernick needs to be the star. There will be times when the running game and defense cannot do it alone. At those points, Kaepernick will need to step up.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin has been Kaepernick's favorite target thus far.

The absence of a deep receiving corps hurts him in this regard. As far as receivers go, there is Anquan Boldin and nobody else. Tight end Vernon Davis helps stretch the field but—as seen with a solid secondary like that of the Seahawks—this approach does not always work.

Fortunately, Kaepernick and the 49ers can count on reinforcements at the wide receiver position in coming weeks. Mario Manningham and rookie Quinton Patton will bolster the position and give Kaepernick a few more options. Michael Crabtree—Kaepernick's favorite target in 2012—should also be returning before season's end.

With San Francisco's receivers struggling to get open thus far into 2013, those reinforcements should help immensely.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Kaepernick's rushing yards currently rank fifth among quarterbacks.

Another key element to Kaepernick's game is his rushing capability. Thus far into the season, Kaepernick has rushed for a total of 154 yards—fifth among quarterbacks.

While it is good to see his dynamic playmaking abilities on display, there have been moments where Kaepernick could have taken off for substantial gains instead of waiting for plays to develop. This was made evident more than once versus Seattle and Indianapolis.

The dual-threat component of Kaepernick's game was an element that shocked and surprised the rest of the league last season. While it may not be a surprise any longer, that element is still there waiting to be utilized. 

The last and perhaps most important means by which Kaepernick can improve is the fact that the young quarterback is still growing. He has already been called out on this process by head coach Jim Harbaugh as described by CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco.

Maiocco's article, which features an interview with Tony Dungy on NBC's Football Night in America, showcases this aspect of Kaepernick's personality. During the interview, Kaepernick stated:

It’s kind of like what Coach Harbaugh tells us sometimes: 'When people start talking really good about you, that’s when you need to be worried.' I think from the time I was young, I’ve had a lot of people tell me I can’t do things so that’s a reminder that I’ve been through this before, and I’ve been successful going through it before.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Head coach Jim Harbaugh (right) has called out Kaepernick before.

That is a good frame of mind to have for a quarterback looking to improve his game in the wake of what may be called a lackluster season thus far.

Kaepernick can sit back and evaluate what he has done well and what needs improvement. There are plenty of examples from both aspects five weeks into the 2013 season. 

Perhaps the best summation of this argument can be provided by Tre Niner of Niners Nation who writes:

Kaepernick is a young, athletic man with many talents. He's not like everyone else, so don't expect him to be. Neither are you. But that doesn't mean his talents can't be used and used properly in order to win games in the NFL. Let him be himself, on and off the field, just give him a little guidance to help him with the transition.

Everyone knows the talent is there. Kaepernick's ceiling is still high and all signs point to him being able to reach it. In the meantime, he needs to continue the maturation process and work towards goals, both in the short and long term.

What has been Colin Kaepernick's biggest obstacle in 2013?

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When those goals come together, Kaepernick should be downright scary. How he gets there remains to be seen. What is the best way for him to do so? 

Let him be himself.

 

All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.

 

Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.

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