Kaepernick embracing leadership role
Colin Kaepernick nearly reached the rarefied air of Super Bowl champion in just his 10th NFL start. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
There are two very distinct Colin Kaepernicks. (AP)
SANTA CLARA -- There was a subtle change in Colin Kaepernick's body language and demeanor when he stepped in front of the media Thursday for the first time in training camp.
While Kaepernick did not waste any time asserting himself on the playing field when he took over for Alex Smith in the middle of last season, he appeared to ease into his role as a team leader.
Kaepernick quickly became the 49ers' most talked-about player -- their most dynamic and unique player -- at the game's glamour position. But he never seemed to get entirely comfortable with the spotlight that quickly found him.
He seemed uneasy in front of the large groups of media that descended upon the 49ers' training complex in Santa Clara. Surrounded with a bunch of proven veterans on both sides of the ball, Kaepernick attracted more attention than any of his more-established teammates.
Kaepernick came within 5 yards of taking a late-game lead in Super Bowl XLVII. He was that close to winning a Super Bowl after taking over at midseason.
Now, he's back for his first training camp as the unquestioned 49ers starter. Alex Smith has found a new home with the Kansas City Chiefs. And the Kaepernick who appeared Thursday looked and sounded the part of a player who has quickly become the face of the franchise.
Even as the youngest returning starter on offense, Kaepernick has already accepted more leadership responsibility on a talented roster with a strong veteran influence.
"I think if your players, your teammates don't respect you, if they don't feel that you're someone that they can come to, talk to, associate with, they're not going to follow you," Kaepernick said. "They're not going to play as well for you on the field and they're not going to perform for you.
"So to me, if I can build that relationship and make sure my players and my teammates are comfortable and feel like I can help them be better on the field, I think they're going to go out and perform better."
There are two very distinct Kaepernicks. There's the one who has been a social media sensation, appears at awards shows and has posed nude for ESPN The Magazine's body issue. He seemed to revel in his newfound national celebrity status. And the public has spoken, too, making his No. 7 the most-bought NFL jersey of the past three months.
Then, there is the Kaepernick that his coaches and teammates see every day at the 49ers' practice facility. He's the player who devotes extraordinary time and effort into maximizing his already-immense physical talents.
"He works. When we're out here doing our minicamp stuff, he's out here at 6, 7 in the morning running 200s for seemingly no reason," 49ers receiver Kyle Williams said. "But he knows how to prepare himself. Guys respect that, and guys are drawn to him because of that. He wins and he plays well, so obviously guys are going to be in his corner."
Coach Jim Harbaugh was in Kaepernick's corner from the moment he set foot in Nevada to lead him through a workout a few weeks prior to the 2011 NFL draft. Then, the 49ers moved up nine spots in the second round to select Kaepernick with the No. 36 overall pick. The 49ers traded their second-, fourth-, and fifth-round selections to acquire Kaepernick.
More than two years later, it's apparent the 49ers have the quarterback -- and the person -- they believe is capable of leading the franchise for many seasons.
"Kap is a diverse guy. And the coaches love him, the players love him," Harbaugh said. "It's unique in that way, maybe, for a quarterback. You don't always see that, but I see that with Kap. He's universally respected in the locker room and loved by his teammates.
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"I guess I see that from the 25 to 35 demographic too, buying jerseys. People relate to him. They like his company. They like being around him and I've noticed that very much from our team. So, you asked about his leadership ability or effectiveness. For a leader to be effective they got to be followed by most of the group that he's leading. Colin Kaepernick definitely has that love and respect from his teammates."
Kaepernick nearly reached the rarefied air of Super Bowl champion in just his 10th NFL start. In San Francisco, a quarterback does not truly arrive until he hoists a Lombard Trophy, and Kaepernick came agonizingly close to joining Joe Montana and Steve Young.
After rallying from 22 points down, the 49ers were within five points at the two-minute warning. The 49ers made it to the 5-yard line against the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
But the 49ers lost one great chance to score the go-ahead points on a designed Kaepernick run when a timeout was called from the sideline as the play clock was about to expire. Kaepernick's final three pass attempts intended for Michael Crabtree were incomplete. The 49ers comeback fell short in a 34-31 loss -- the franchise's first defeat in six Super Bowl appearances.
"I think about it a lot," Kaepernick said. "I think about it to make sure that doesn't happen again. I'll put our team in a better situation next time we're in a situation like that, we have an opportunity like that, so the outcome isn't that way."