Despite rise to stardom, Kaepernick just scratching the surface

Kaepernick: 49ers not 'comfortable,' but 'ready'

Despite rise to stardom, Kaepernick just scratching the surface
September 3, 2013, 9:15 pm
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There's something special there, in terms of what drives him. He lives in, I think, one of those worlds where he's motivated for success and for achievement -- not satisfied, no matter how good it is.
Jim Harbaugh on Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick's Super Bowl XLVII stats: 16-28, 302 passing yards, TD, INT, 62 rush yards, rush TD. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

In the moments after the crushing defeat, Colin Kaepernick accepted responsibility for what occurred.

"I feel like I made too many mistakes for us to win," said a downcast Kaepernick in the aftermath of the 49ers' 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.

Kaepernick threw for 302 yards -- his first time eclipsing the 300-yard mark as an NFL passer. He also rushed for 62 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown run, the longest in Super Bowl history from a quarterback.

But a couple of overthrown balls and a failure to get into the end zone on three pass attempts from the Ravens' 5-yard line in the closing minutes sent Kaepernick into the offseason with an unfulfilled checklist.

All the work in the offseason to improve physically and mentally was with only one goal in mind for his first full season as the 49ers' starting quarterback.

"It's very motivating," Kaepernick said of the Super Bowl loss. "You don't want that to happen again. I think everybody in this locker room knows our expectations are to get back and win it."

So Kaepernick set out to get better -- a lot better -- than the quarterback who blasted onto the scene when he replaced Alex Smith in the middle of the season. His play prompted the 49ers to trade Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs in the offseason.

Kaepernick, the new face of the 49ers franchise, has also assumed the rare distinction as a “franchise quarterback.”

Kaepernick completed 62.4 percent of his passes in his seven regular-season starts. He threw for 1,814 yards and 10 touchdowns with just three interceptions. Kaepernick also rushed for 415 yards and five touchdowns.

In three postseason games, including the Super Bowl, he averaged 266 yards passing and 88 yards rushing per game. He threw four touchdown passes and rushed for three scores.

Kaepernick's signature game was his first playoff appearance. A couple kneeldowns at the end of the 49ers' 45-31 victory over the Green Bay Packers lowered his rushing total a couple of yards, but he still finished with 181 yards and two touchdowns rushing on 16 attempts.

[REWIND: Kaepernick runs wild with limelight]

Kaepernick's performance set the NFL record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in any regular- or postseason game.

The Packers spent a good portion of the offseason studying ways to defend the read option, which Kaepernick helped popularize out of the pistol formation. And Green Bay does not have to wait long to get another crack at Kaepernick. The teams open the regular season on Sunday at Candlestick Park.

[REWIND: Kaepernick forces Packers to go back to school]

But here's the scary part for the Packers and opposing defenses around the NFL: Kaepernick appears to be bigger, faster and stronger, while throwing the ball with more touch and accuracy, than a year ago.

"I think he's getting better, really, at everything he does just because of the approach he takes," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "He's definitely somebody with a live arm, and I think he's really focused on all his throws, short, intermediate and deep."

During a six-game stretch at the end of the regular season, Kaepernick and tight end Vernon Davis averaged only one connection per game. The pair heated up in the NFC Championship game and in the Super Bowl. And the connection continued throughout the summer. Davis figures to help pick up the slack in the passing game with wide receiver Michael Crabtree out most of the season as he rehabilitates after surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon.

"Last year when he first got the starting job, we'd be at practice and he'd keep overthrowing me," Davis said. "I'd be running as fast as I possibly could and Colin just kept overthrowing me," Davis said. "Now we get out there and it's night and day. He puts the ball right there. Man, he's come a long way. I'm very impressed."

Anquan Boldin, a 10-year veteran who was the leading pass-catcher on the Ravens a year ago, knew the trade that sent him to the 49ers meant he would be joining a talented young quarterback. But even Boldin did not realize the extent of Kaepernick's multi-faceted game until he got on the practice field.

"From the outside looking in, you hear about how athletic he is," Boldin said. "A lot of times, the quarterback aspect gets overlooked. I think if people have a chance to play with him or see him up close, they'll understand how good of a quarterback he actually is."

A lot of Kaepernick's offseason was on display for the public. He now appears in national commercials, on the cover of magazines and he took center stage at award shows. Kaepernick has more than 623,000 followers on Instagram, so it became national news when he adorned himself with a Miami Dolphins hat and was seen in public on the Fourth of July.

While his Q-rating has shot off the charts, Kaepernick otherwise remains unchanged.

"More opportunities in the offseason, but other than that, my life hasn't changed," he said. "I do the same things with my friends. I hang out with my family the same way."

Despite all the offseason attention he received, he dedicated himself to his profession. Kaepernick believes he enters this season as a better quarterback than the player who dejectedly walked off the field while the Ravens celebrated at the Louisiana Superdome on Feb. 3.

"I think so," Kaepernick said. "I think constantly you're trying to improve, you're trying to get better. If you don't come into the next season better than you were the year before, that's a problem."

Although Kaepernick's status on the team and around the NFL has changed dramatically, his objective remains the same. A year ago, he never put up a serious challenge during the summer months to replace Smith as the starter. Yet, Kaepernick never had the mindset of a backup quarterback.

Coach Jim Harbaugh recently revisited the written goals he had every member of the 49ers submit prior to last season.

"It was darn near verbatim what he achieved," Harbaugh said. "There's something special there, in terms of what drives him. He lives in, I think, one of those worlds where he's motivated for success and for achievement -- not satisfied, no matter how good it is."

And it certainly was not good enough for Kaepernick, who nearly accomplished all the goals he set forth a year ago when he entered the season as a second-year player and the team’s second quarterback.

"Everything except part of No. 3," he said.

Was that to win the Super Bowl?

Kaepernick answered, "It was."

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