San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) is interview following a win over the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The 49ers defeated the Saints 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
SANTA CLARA, CA - Colin Kaepernick only wants to play football, not stand in the middle of the league's biggest quarterback controversy.
Yet there he was Wednesday, his back against a concrete wall painted red and gold, answering questions from a gaggle of reporters who had just learned he, not Alex Smith, would start for the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.
Said Kaepernick: "I'm just happy to be back out on the field."
A teammate, defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois, perched himself on a stool to get a camera phone shot as the quiet, second-year quarterback was seemingly encircled as if by hungry sharks. Coach Jim Harbaugh told the team of his decision to go with Kaepernick on Wednesday morning, and players were still getting used to a decision expected by many.
"Sometimes guys who don't look good in practice ... they're just gamers," said receiver Michael Crabtree, describing Kaepernick. "I think that's how Alex is, I mean, Kaep is, at quarterback. He only knows one speed, and that's go."
Speed on his feet and speed on his fastball are Kaepernick's defining characteristics. Two starts and two victories -against the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints - were enough to unseat Smith, who was concussed Nov. 11 in an eventual tie with the Rams; he'd led the Niners to a 6-2 record to that point. But Harbaugh isn't calling Kaepernick his starter beyond Sunday's game in St. Louis.
"We've got two quarterbacks that we feel great about as a starting quarterback," Harbaugh said. "Both have earned it. What tips the scales is Colin has the hot hand, so we'll go with Colin ... and we'll go with Alex. They're both our guys."
Harbaugh would not speculate as to whether it was likely Kaepernick would be pulled if he struggles this weekend. San Francisco players seem to think the 49ers will be alright no matter who starts under center, and with good reason. While taking control of the NFC West, the 49ers (8-2-1) have leaned on running back Frank Gore (914 rushing yards) and a dominant defense.
"There's really no difference (between the two quarterbacks)," said tight end Delanie Walker. "I think Kaep is playing well right now. I think we feed off of it, and that's why he's getting the start."
Kaepernick was chosen by San Francisco with the 36th overall selection of the 2011 draft out of Nevada. He is a native of Turlock, Calif., some two hours east of San Francisco. Smith, the team's on-and-off starter since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2005, had a 20-5-1 record as as the starter since Harbaugh took over in 2011. Smith has completed 70% of his passes this season, with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Tight end Vernon Davis seemed to think there was an intangible difference between Kaepernick and Smith, referring to Smith as "still our guy" following a 31-21 victory in New Orleans in which Kaepernick generated two touchdowns. Said Davis after the game: "Harbaugh will make the right decision."
One tangible difference between Smith and Kaepernick is arm strength. Even Davis admitted Kaepernick throws a harder ball. The effect is twofold. The good: Kaepernick already has 10 pass plays go for 20 or more yards, compared to 22 for Smith in nine starts.The bad: Kaepernick has had 12.1% of his attempts dropped, most in the NFL, according to profootballfocus.com.
Neither Davis nor Smith were available to the reporters Wednesday. But other 49ers didn't seem to share Davis' opinion of the quarterback situation, at least not after Harbaugh made the call.
"Everybody here backs each other," said linebacker Aldon Smith, "and all we want to do is win. Harbaugh just wants to win. And whoever is in that pilot spot at QB, we have his back no matter what."
Crabtree shared a similar reaction: "Let's go play some ball."
He went on to add: "In this league I'm not surprised about nothing. Whoever the quarterback is, I'm just going to try and go make plays."
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