Colin Kaepernick: Why 49ers QB's Running Ability Is a Double-Edged Sword

Joseph AkeleyAnalyst INovember 15, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - NOVEMBER 11: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers runs for a first down against defensive end Robert Quinn #94 of the St. Louis Rams in the fourth quarter on November 11, 2012 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.  The teams tied 24-24 in overtime.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

In his first extended taste of NFL regular-season action, Colin Kaepernick wooed San Francisco 49ers fans with his dual-threat ability.

The second-year quarterback frequently made something out of nothing by scrambling, totaling 66 yards and a touchdown on eight rushes.

He also completed 11-of-17 passes for 117 yards, helping the 49ers come from behind twice against the St. Louis Rams in a game that ended in a tie.

Although his final stat line was pretty impressive, his performance wasn't without flaws.

On Monday, NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell was a guest on the Mr. T Show, a Bay Area sports talk show hosted by ex-NBA power forward Tom Tolbert.

When asked about Kaepernick, Cosell said the signal-caller is "very limited in his pass game understanding" and that "that's to be expected, to an extent," clearly referring to his lack of experience in the NFL.

Later in the interview, Cosell circled back to Kaepernick's performance and provided this nugget about running quarterbacks:

He (Kaepernick) had a few nice runs yesterday, and nice runs always get the fanbase really excited. And every once in a while, that works, and sometimes it works in the two-minute situation when the game is a litter quicker and there's a little more of a sandlot element. But it doesn't work over time. You can't be consistent playing random football. You have to ultimately play within structure to be successful play after play, quarter after quarter, week after week.  

I couldn't agree more with Cosell's assessment.

This isn't to say that I'd put 50-pound weights on Kaepernick's legs so he's forced to stay within the pocket every play. Having the ability to escape defensive pressure and run for first downs is a valuable attribute.

However, against the Rams, Kaepernick relied too much on his belief that he can escape any rush, opting not to throw the ball away and putting himself—and the football—in harm's way.

On 3rd-and-7 in overtime, Kaepernick showed the negative aspect of the prototypical "running quarterback." When the ball was snapped, Kaepernick immediately noticed the Rams were coming with a blitz. Instead of making a quick throw against man coverage to one of his receivers, Kaepernick chose to try to outrun the defense to the outside. He was taken down by Chris Long for an eight-yard loss. 

In fairness to Kaepernick, no quarterback is without flaw when facing 3rd-and-long situations. 

However, a much more concerning play occurred early in the fourth quarter.

On 2nd-and-4, Kaepernick dropped back with lots of time to throw. He waited several seconds for someone to get open, apparently disregarding the "internal clock" to get rid of the ball that all quarterbacks must have. 

Mario Haggan sacked Kaepernick and forced a fumble that the 49ers were fortunate to recover. 

It's not surprising that Kaepernick held onto the ball too long. It's simply part of his mindset.

At Nevada, when nobody was open, Kaepernick ran, and was often successful doing it. Throwing the ball away was hardly necessary, considering he was markedly faster than most opposing players. 

That's not the case anymore against speedy NFL defenses. The blocking was excellent on that fourth quarter play, but Kaepernick's unwillingness to throw the ball away almost led to a turnover.

It appears Kaepernick will soon return to the backup role, as Alex Smith is "on track to start" against the Chicago Bears on Monday night, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. 

But at some point down the road, the 49ers are going to need to decide between Smith and Kaepernick.

Sure, Kaepernick is the more dynamic option.

However, at this point, he simply doesn't have the "feel" for the position.

To take the next step in his development, Kaepernick needs to know when to stay in the pocket, when to scramble and when to simply throw the ball away. 

Until he learns when to do these things, expect Smith to be the starter for The Red And Gold.