A couple Monday nights ago, the betting world was waiting for word on the 49ers quarterback.
We knew at that point the Bears starter, Jay Cutler, would not be active for the game. Cutler would be replaced by journeyman Jason Campbell, a veteran with less than great credentials. Campbell, however, was a known entity with starting gigs in Washington and Oakland. Bettors had a read on what they were getting for their money, on or against him.
If 49ers starter Alex Smith couldn’t go, we would be looking at Colin Kaepernick, unknown to most of the football world. The 49ers were -7 over the Bears before Smith was finally declared out. The game quickly went to -3½. I sent out on twitter the price had been way over adjusted. I had planned on passing on the game, but now I was betting the 49ers.
Most people were unaware of just how good Kaepernick was. Most people didn’t get to witness his entire college career like I did.
I was accused by some followers of being nothing but a homer, knowing I had spent the bulk of the past 30 years in Reno. If witnessing greatness creates bias, call me biased.
I remember seeing him in his first start, a 69-67 loss to perennial WAC juggernaut Boise State. He earned that start after coming off the bench in the previous game to pass for 384 yards and 4 TDs in 2½ quarters of football. Talk about impressive debuts.
I was far from being alone in my assessment. NFL scouts knew. You aren’t going to get much past those guys. They were slow to come around on Kaepernick as his career progressed, but they were on it now.
At the dawn of his senior season there was some talk of him being a “draftable” player. With his speed he had great potential as a receiver. As the season progressed the talk evolved into the possibility of him being a late round choice as a quarterback.
Some of us who had seen Kap his whole career knew something had changed between his junior and senior years. I saw him in the off-season at a function and mentioned to a friend that he looked a lot more physically imposing than before. Until that time he had an immature body with legs like Olive Oyl. You see that in some basketball players but a football player will get them snapped off. His legs now looked like a real quarterback.
It turns out his legs were the big tipoff. Kap had plenty of arm strength. As a pitcher his fastball had been clocked in the 90s. What had held him back as a prospect was his mechanics. He had a poor delivery with a long windup. His balance was terrible. All that could be traced to a lousy base, and that’s in the legs.
Not only did he work on his leg strength, but was one of nine undergraduate quarterbacks invited to the Manning Passing Camp. If you can’t learn quarterbacking from Peyton Manning, you’re hopeless. Kap was far from hopeless.
The mechanics improved dramatically. From what was once a kid with a ton of talent who could really run and throw, he was now a quarterback.
By the end of the season, Kap led Nevada (Sorry Las Vegas, it’s not Reno or UNR, its Nevada) to a 13-1 record including a win over previously unbeaten Boise State. He finished his career as the only quarterback in NCAA history with 10,000 yards passing and 4,000 rushing.
As the draft approached following the 2010 season, Kaepernick was one of the most talked about players. Some were still skeptical but Jim Harbaugh move up in the second round to get his man.
In his rookie season, Kap didn’t contribute much. Alex Smith had a career year and the 49ers went to the NFC finals. So far this season was more of the same with occasional appearances in a running situation. He performed well when asked. Like a Tim Tebow who could actually play.
During the week preceding Kaepernick’s starting debut, the word I was getting out of the Bay Area was that Harbaugh was secretly happy about getting this opportunity to test his young quarterback. Obviously he wished no harm on the incumbent Smith, but this was non-controversial way to open that door.
Kaepernick played so well in the Monday night game, Harbaugh knew right away he had something. The monkey wrench was now Smith was healthy. Smith is a nice quarterback, a former number one draft choice and having his best season. Switching midstream would not be easy.
Harbaugh made the tough call. He came right back with Kaepernick in a game at the Superdome. Maybe the biggest home field advantage in the league. Some jitters were evident early, but Kaepernick overcame them and a 7 point deficit to lead his team to a 31-21 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
I have a feeling Smith will be quarterbacking some other team next year. He might have taken his last snap for the 49ers. I don’t know football or Kaepernick nearly as well as Harbaugh. No one knows what the season has in store for the 49ers or anyone else.
Harbaugh, who has proven to be as good a coach as any in his brief career, has decided Kaepernick gives him a better chance to win a Super Bowl than does his former QB who took him within three points of the prize last season.
Be careful betting against him.
Chris Andrews has over 30 years of experience as a bookmaker in Nevada. You can follow him on Twitter @AndrewsSports. Chris has a dedicated thread in the Pregame.com forums, answering your questions and more. Contact Chris at [email protected].