After 49ers quarterback Alex Smith played his worst game of the Jim Harbaugh era in Sunday’s blowout loss to the Giants, the question in San Francisco is being asked: Is it time for Colin Kaepernick?
Kaepernick, the quarterback the 49ers selected in the second round of last year’s NFL draft, has been getting a fair amount of playing time this season, running some of the same read option concepts he ran in college at Nevada, where he was the only player in major college football history to have more than 10,000 passing yards and more than 4,000 rushing yards. (It’s technically not the same thing as the Wildcat, although that’s how many people refer to the Kaepernick package.) This year for the 49ers Kaepernick has completed five of nine passes for 89 yards, and run 12 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns. In limited action as a change of pace, Kaepernick has played very well.
But does that mean Kaepernick deserves more playing time? The most extreme opinion is that Harbaugh should bench Smith and make Kaepernick the starter. From all indications, that’s not going to happen. As Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News notes, Harbaugh has never wavered in his support of Smith, and one game — even the worst game Harbaugh has seen Smith play — will almost certainly not be enough to change that.
The second opinion is that Smith should remain the starter but Kaepernick should get more playing time. That’s definitely a possibility, considering how effective the 49ers’ offense has been with Kaepernick running it. All the endless offseason hype about what Tim Tebow could do with the Jets? That’s what Kaepernick has actually done. And it could make sense for Harbaugh to have Kaepernick do more of it.
However, there’s another point of view, which is that Kaepernick shouldn’t get any playing time at all because Smith can’t do his job as the starting quarterback effectively if he’s getting taken out before he can get the offense in rhythm. Harbaugh suggested after the loss to the Giants that he’s thinking about that: When he was asked if he had any concerns that putting Kaepernick in so much obstructs the flow of the offense, Harbaugh answered, “Yes.” And when he was asked if the use of Kaepernick was a problem on Sunday, Harbaugh acknowledged that it could have been, saying, “Perhaps. I mean, the plan wasn’t the best plan.”
On Thursday the 49ers host the Seahawks in a crucial game in the NFC West, and from Harbaugh’s post-game comments it sounds like, if anything, he’s leaning toward using Kaepernick less. But if Smith plays badly in another 49ers loss, that could lead to Harbaugh using Kaepernick more. And maybe even using Kaepernick exclusively.