Colin Kaepernick wants you to know: He’s smarter than you may think
It’s pretty clear: Colin Kaepernick is tired of the codes that sometimes surround the new age of lightning-fast running quarterbacks who bring a new level of passing acumen to that strain of player. Despite the fact that the second-year star out of Nevada nearly led the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl win, there are those who would still have you believe that Kaepernick — and by association, Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Seattle’s Russell Wilson — are (black) read-option guys with little in the way of “elite quarterback tools. “
The first and most ridiculous hit on Kaepernick came from David Whitley of The Sporting News, who lit into Kaepernick and his many tattoos last November, failing to realize that most of them contained variations of bible verses. More offensive in Whitley’s column was the insinuation that the tattoos on the bodies of Ben Roethlisberger and Alex Smith were somehow more “heroic.”
Yes, that’s the racial code you think it is, and Kaepernick — the adopted biracial son of Rick and Teresa Kaepernick — is now doing everything he possibly can to distance himself from that pejorative prejudice. In a recent interview with GQ, Kaepernick went out of his way to mention that, believe it or not, it takes a lot of intelligence and plain old hard work to succeed as a quarterback in the NFL.
“All my life I’ve had these flashbacks, these dreams, nightmares, daymares, like visions, where I relive certain plays,” he told Andrew Corsello. “Only the bad plays. I see them over and over, as if somebody’s rewinding a tape and forcing me to watch. Some of these are recent, but some of them go back to high school. Every time I relive these mistakes of mine, I’m also forced to ask, What could I have done different? What decisions could I have made? This stuff haunts me, but I like it, because it makes the game hard. And the more I study, the more comfortable I feel with what a defense is going to do.
“Sometimes, when things are going really well, I feel like I’ve already seen things—it’s the flashback feeling in a good way. Like I’m watching a rerun, because I’ve studied this defense and know what comes next. Now, that is a good feeling, when your mind is working fast because you’ve studied and you realize, I’ve seen this before.”
And then, Kaepernick made it as simple as he possibly could — this game isn’t so simple.
“I think the biggest part of my game that’s underestimated is the mental part of it,” he says. “Probably because it’s invisible. You can’t see the hours I put in. It is funny to me that because I can run, because I’m athletic, people tend to see that as my only asset. And that’s fine—I hope they continue to see it that way. Look, I won’t say that view is ‘racist.’ I will say it’s stereotypical. I’ve just heard it so many times before.”
In truth, it’s probably both. It’s just easier to watch Kaepernick run for 181 on 16 carries against the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs and just assume that’s all he does. But this is the same guy who, in the NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons the next week, was at his most efficient, completing 16 of 21 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown. The Super Bowl loss to the Baltimore Ravens was his 10th NFL start. He threw 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions in his first regular season as a starter, and he’s played successfully for two of the most exacting coaches in football — Chris Ault at Nevada, and Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco. Each of those men have forgotten more about quarterback play than some other coaches will ever know, and they’ve each signed off on Kaepernick as their guy.
To put a finer point on it, here’s just some of what Harbaugh — who played quarterback in the NFL from 1987 through 2000 — had to say about his guy:
“He’s becoming very expert in the system. He’s the type of player that studies the game plan, studies the ready-list, studies our practice tape, opponent tape, and somebody that contributes to the game plan and formulates ideas, asks questions, knows what everybody on the offense is doing and getting very good at understanding defenses and what they’re trying to accomplish and what their adjustments are. Still evolving and looking for ways to get better in areas that he can continue to learn, so it’s not something that is finite. He continues to grow. But he’s always eager to learn, always eager to understand and eager to have input as well.”
Maybe that should be the end of it, but as long as Kaepernick feels the need to prove that he’s smart enough to do what he’s … well, already done, perhaps we haven’t come as far when looking at quarterbacks as we’d like to believe.