Programming note: After the final gun at tonight's Bears-49ers game at Candlestick Park, change the channel to 49ers Postgame Live for analysis and interviews, only on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area!
So this is why the 49ers traded up in the second round to select ultra-intriguing quarterback Colin Kaepernick.His time has come as the team's starting quarterback.And it has come for Kaepernick without a full week of first-team practice repetitions to prepare for a game against the No. 5 defense in the league.And it's a game that could ultimately determine whether the 49ers get a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. The 49ers are 6-2-1, while the Chicago Bears are 7-2.The 49ers have not announced Alex Smith is out of Monday night's game against the Bears, but one source confirmed the ESPN report that Alex Smith did not receive final clearance to return to action after sustaining a concussion Nov. 11 against the St. Louis Rams.RELATED: Report -- Alex Smith not cleared to play vs. Bears
Smith returned to practice Wednesday and handled about the same number of practice snaps that he would on a normal week, according to 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman and others.This game could have huge implications on the future of the franchise. Coach Jim Harbaugh believes in sticking with the "hot hand." And for most of this season, that hand has belonged to Smith.With Smith starting and finishing games, the 49ers are 20-6 since the beginning of last season, including a 1-1 record in the playoffs.Smith, 28, is having his best NFL season with a passer rating of 104.1, which ranks third behind Aaron Rodgers (107.3) and Peyton Manning (106.2).RELATED: Alex Smith career stats 2012 game logs Splits
Surprisingly, Smith is also third in the NFL in average per pass attempt at 7.97 yards. That also ranks third in the NFL behind Manning (8.0) and Cam Newton (7.98). Smith has improved nearly a full yard per attempt from a year ago.But where Smith ranks at the bottom of the league is yards passing. His 1,731 yards is No. 29 in the NFL, and 217 pass attempts is 31st among all quarterbacks.Kaepernick, 25, has made no secret of his mindset that he wants to be the starter. On Monday, he will apparently get his chance to prove he is a better option for the 49ers than Smith.RELATED: Colin Kaepernick career stats 2012 game logs
Kaepernick saw his most extensive NFL playing time last week against the St. Louis Rams. He entered in the second quarter with the 49ers trailing 14-7. Kaepernick overcame a slow start to complete 11 of 17 passes for 117 yards. He rushed for 66 yards on eight carries -- five of which came on scrambles."There were just a couple reads I wish I could have back, opportunities for big plays," Kaepernick said.Said Roman, "There's definitely some plays in there that he could have played better on. He knows it. There's some really good plays that he made, off the cuff, that you can't coach. He did a good job. I thought he was very poised. He was very prepared mentally, physically and emotionally."If Smith had remained healthy and kept performing at the same level, Kaepernick would not have received the opportunity he is expected to get Monday night.But at some point before his initial contract expired, Kaepernick would have been given an extended look. Kaepernick and Smith are both signed to the 49ers through the 2014 season.Now, that look comes under the stress of a game that could be viewed as a playoff-simulator as the 49ers and Bears jockey for position in the postseason.
Smith signed a three-year, 24 million contract with the 49ers in the offseason. The structure of the contract makes is easy for the 49ers to make a quarterback switch without taking much of a financial hit.Smith's second-year base salary of 7.5 million is fully guaranteed only if Smith remains on the 49ers' roster on April 1, 2013. Smith received no signing bonus, and only 1 million of his 2013 salary is full guaranteed.In essence, that means nothing is guaranteed for Smith or Kaepernick.