What a difference a year makes for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick – from being a backup at the beginning of the 2012 season to becoming the team leader and a high-profile starting quarterback as the 2013 season opens.
Thus is the meteoric ascension of the third-year San Francisco quarterback in the past 12 months. The journey included a near 49ers’ comeback in last season’s Super Bowl that was engineered by “Kap,” as he is known to his teammates.
One thing is certain for Kaepernick, as the new season opens for the 49ers on Sunday at Candlestick Park against the rival Green Bay Packers, there is no doubt who is the captain of the San Francisco ship.
“It’s Kap’s team,” 49ers veteran tight end Vernon Davis said. “He is calling the shots, pulling the trigger, calling the plays.”
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For the first half of 2012, Kaepernick — who only played in three games in 2011 — was firmly planted on the bench as a second-stringer behind veteran Alex Smith. Kaepernick, the 36th overall pick in the 2011 draft from Nevada, had tremendous physical ability but was not a widely known quantity.
Kaepernick got his playing opportunity last year, replacing an injured Smith (now on the Chiefs) against the St. Louis Rams and he went on to start the final seven regular-season games. Kaepernick (7-3 in his career as a starter) followed that by leading San Francisco to two playoff victories and into Super Bowl XLVII, where San Francisco lost 34-31 to Baltimore. The 49ers second-half comeback spearheaded by Kaepernick highlighted his athleticism, grit and determination.
“Kaepernick is awesome. He’s got the skills,” said Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson after a Vikings-49ers exhibition game last month. “When he’s on the field, he can run the ball and throw it. It’s tough for defenses.”
Running the “read-option” offense gives Kaepernick plenty of opportunities to run, and the 25-year old from Turlock, Calif., is at the early stages of what could be a legendary career. Kaepernick, along with second-year quarterbacks Russell Wilson of the Seahawks and Robert Griffin III of the Redskins, is part of a trio of dynamic young signal-callers that can beat teams in the air and on the ground.
“Kap tells you exactly what he wants before a play, after a play and even during a play. As long as you listen to him he will put the ball where it needs to be,” 49ers receiver Marlon Moore said. “He is definitely an athlete; he has a strong arm, legs that can get anywhere. He just sees the field so well. If you are open, he will definitely find you.”
Kaepernick’s dual-threat ability was at the forefront in his first career postseason start in January as he set the NFL single-game rushing record by a quarterback with 181 yards on the ground against Green Bay (16 carries, 2 TDs) and completed 17 of 31 pass attempts for 263 yards.
“It was difficult for players like me because if you rush the passer, Kaepernick beats you with his feet,” Packers four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews told reporters after the playoff game.
Famous for his touchdown celebration — “Kaepernicking” — where he kisses his tattooed biceps, Kaepernick seems primed for many more end-zone celebrations.
Moore punctuated the point, saying: “When the spotlight is on and it’s shining, everyone is looking to Kap because he is the man in the driver’s seat.”