(Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
After an offseason that saw the San Francisco 49ers' roster fall apart, there was a ton of pressure on quarterback Colin Kaepernick to step up and keep the 49ers competitive this season.
In order to do so, the NFL world was waiting to see Kaepernick take the next step as a quarterback and become a more stable, accurate pocket passer. Despite a strong arm and otherworldly quickness, the 49ers were hoping that Kaepernick could mold into a more traditional quarterback, whose speed is an added strength, rather than his primary weapon.
After a down season in 2014 in which his yards per throw and passer rating fell and his interceptions and sacks rose, Kaepernick sought the help of former quarterback Kurt Warner to help him fix his biggest weakness.
That included changing his stance, improving his footwork, taking some velocity off his passes, and learning to read defenses better. Kaepernick reportedly spent one day a week in a classroom setting with Warner, studying these concepts, then applying them on the field.
In the 49ers opening-night 20-3 beatdown of the Minnesota Vikings, Kaepernick showed all of these traits, albeit in modesty. Though he finished just 17-26 for 165 passing yards and no touchdowns, there were reasons to be excited about Kaepernick's growth as a quarterback.
While the 49ers leaned on explosive second-year running back Carlos Hyde for 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns, Kaepernick handled the rest of the load with finesse.
He displayed more poise, avoiding an oncoming defense, then pump-faking to fool defenders before finding an open receiver:
He also showed a willingness to hang in the pocket, then feather a pass to Vernon Davis as the pocket collapsed, whereas previously, he might have taken off running or threw an uncatchable bullet:
As noted by ESPN's Trent Dilfer during the broadcast, in the above play, Kaepernick shows growth in his footwork, maintaining his posture and keeping a wide stance to hop around in the pocket, thus allowing for a more accurate throw.
Warner discussed working with Kaepernick during the offseason and noted how important legs and stance are to being a good quarterback (via Niners Nation):
"When you want to change velocity and be able to change and throw with touch, and different trajectories, the biggest part of throwing becomes your legs. Your power comes with your legs, so I can still throw a 20-yard dig, but I don't have to throw it 100 mph. When you're throwing with your arm and you gotta throw a 20-yard dig, there's only one way to throw it, and that's hard."
"And so the biggest thing again was staying in a comfortable throwing position, meaning legs bent, lower body engaged, so we get our power and torque from that, and now we can change the arm and we can slow it down, and we can change the trajectory. So now, we can throw with plenty of velocity to get the ball there, but we can also throw with touch so we make it easier on our receivers."
Of course, when he needed to Monday night, Kaepernick still flashed his athleticism, rushing for 41 yards on the night:
Again, while Kaepernick's numbers and improvements seemed modest, they're nonetheless important for his growth as a quarterback. If the 49ers can continue to lean on their run game, it only affords Kaepernick that much more time to continue working on these additions to his game.
While the Vikings might not be the top competition Kaepernick will face, getting these kinds of games under his belt has to help his confidence going forward.
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