Following a turbulent 49ers offseason, the load on quarterback Colin Kaepernick has never been heavier.
As he prepares to enter his fifth season in the NFL, Kaepernick will be charged with turning around an offense that ranked 20th in yards per game in 2014. He’ll be asked to do so in a new offensive system without the help of key veterans like Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, Michael Crabtree and Frank Gore.
But for Kaepernick, Tuesday’s start to the 49ers’ mandatory three-day minicamp wasn’t about dwelling on who wasn’t there, it was about making the most out of who still is:
“I think everyone realizes the players we have lost and the players we have here are very capable of stepping in and being impact players for us. At this point, we’re going to continue moving forward. We’re going to continue to keep working.”
Kaepernick’s new and improved throwing motion is expected to play a big role in moving the offense down the field. Though we’ve only seen flashes of it during OTAs, the new motion is the product of working with Dennis Gile and Kurt Warner over the offseason in Arizona. Perhaps it will lead to improvement of Kaepernick’s 86.4 quarterback rating in 2014, his lowest since taking over the starting job.
We won’t know for sure until the 49ers open up the season against Minnesota on September 14, but Kaepernick has stated that his desire to improve will not end when camp breaks:
“That’s something that I’m going to continue to work on. It’s a constant competition to see how much better I can get with a throwing motion. Being more accurate, being more comfortable with the playbook. Everything. It’s how can I become the best player that I need to be.”
Despite the losses of a 1,000-yard runner in Gore, and a wall of protection in Davis and Iupati, the 49ers’ chance for a coherent offense still begins and ends with Kaepernick. Even amid 2014’s stacked offensive arsenal, the 49ers gunslinger ranked 24th in the NFL with just 210.6 passing yards per game.
Despite the loss of personnel, Kaepernick believes that the new, simplified offensive system of offensive coordinator Geep Chryst will allow himself, and his teammates to be more successful moving the ball.
“It’s being able to execute the plays that are called and execute them more efficiently. I think with our new offensive coordinator, with our new quarterback coach, we’ve cleaned a lot of things up and made it more comfortable and friendly for players to be able to go out and make plays.”
Despite general manager Trent Baalke’s comments about the 49ers running the ball more in 2015, the additions of WR Torrey Smith and RB Reggie Bush, as well as the loss of Gore, may put Kaepernick’s ability to air the ball out to the ultimate test.
Factor in the reported resurgence of Vernon Davis, and a slew of hungry, young speedsters in Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington and veteran Jerome Simpson, and we may see the 49ers stretch the field farther than they have in a number of seasons.
This idea was not lost on Kaepernick when discussing his new options in the passing game:
“That’s something I’m looking forward to this coming season is having that opportunity to take shots.”
The loss in personnel will hamper the 49ers offense in 2015, despite the optimism of both coaches and players. The most important test of this upcoming season could be whether or not Kaepernick can shoulder the responsibility.
No one expects Kaepernick to pull off a miracle following the turmoil of this offseason. However, his ability to continue to develop, and rise to the challenges of this season, can be a big sign of whether or not the 27-year old can lead the team for years to come.