The San Francisco 49ers are a storied franchise, but that wasn’t always the case.
Up until the '80s San Francisco was known for its streak of loser’s luck, but with the arrival of Bill Walsh and Joe Montana—recognized by many as the NFL’s greatest quarterback—a culture of winning was established which led to four Super Bowl titles under Montana’s leadership and a fifth under the leadership of Hall of Famer Steve Young.
Without a doubt, San Francisco’s legacy was built on the backs of great QBs.
But in the years following the defeat of the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX, the 49ers’ winning ways began to slump, slowly but surely. The franchise once known for its high powered offense saw itself flipping through a rotation of QBs that ultimately couldn’t foot the bill.
But in 2011, with the arrival of Jim Harbaugh, things changed for the better. Spurred by the improvement of the once loathed Alex Smith, San Francisco had one of the best turn-around seasons in recent memory, making it all the way to the NFC Championship game after finishing with a record of 6-8 the previous season.
Like Walsh before him, Harbaugh oversaw the continued growth of his team in 2012, culminating with the late season decision to hand over the offensive reigns to the young Colin Kaepernick. The decision helped lead the 49ers back to the big game.
Though San Francisco fell short against the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, it seemed the 49ers had found its footing as a top tier team once again. Now, as the team prepares for its first full season under the leadership of Kaepernick, the pressure is on both head coach and QB to strike gold and bring a championship back to San Francisco.
It’s a prove yourself year, but the pressure hasn’t affected Kaepernick, at least not on the surface. He’s remained calm and collected through training camp and through all the media attention; he’s even managed to keep his cool after being dubbed the future greatest QB of all time by Ron Jaworski.
“To me it’s a great honor that he said that, I’m very flattered by it, but at the same time I haven’t played a full season yet,” Kaepernick said during a training camp press conference.
If his ability to compose himself under external circumstances is a small reflection of how he’ll handle himself under center in his first full NFL season, the 49er faithful have good reason to be excited for 2013.
And while Jaworski’s prediction might be a bit premature, there’s ample evidence to suggest Kaepernick is San Francisco’s next great QB.
“I think we’re good with Colin, I think we know what we got with Colin,” Harbaugh said during a recent press conference.
He’s a dual threat.
Like many of his contemporaries—Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, and Michael Vick—Kaepernick has the ability to torch opposing defenses with his legs. His 181 rushing yards against Green Bay in last season’s NFC Divisional Playoff game is a testament to that.
But unlike those running QBs—except for maybe RGIII—Kaepernick’s passing abilities are just as developed and threatening. His accuracy was on display in his first career start against the Chicago Bears where he completed 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards and 2 TDs. His ability to pass under pressure was seen in the 4th quarter comeback victory over New England in week 15, and his arm strength has been well documented—just ask Randy Moss about his dislocated finger, to get an idea.
In only 10 starts—including the post-season and Super Bowl—Kaepernick completed 62.3% of his passes, racked up 2,612 passing yards and 679 rushing yards, and notched a 97.9 passer rating.
“The biggest thing is just how good of a quarterback he is. From the outside looking in you hear about how athletic he is and a lot of times the quarterback aspect gets over looked,” new 49er receiver Anquon Boldin said during a recent press conference.
Now, with twice as many games on his schedule, an entire off season to prepare as the unquestioned starter, and with added weapons to his supporting offensive cast, Kaepernick has the opportunity and the ability to become a top 10 QB in 2013 and make a return trip to the Super Bowl.