Harbaugh considers Kaepernick's 'hot hand'


Harbaugh considers Kaepernick's 'hot hand'


SAN FRANCISCO -- Alex Smith completed 25 of his past 27 passes over two games. But the 49ers now have another hot hand at quarterback.Colin Kaepernick made a convincing argument for unseating the NFL's third-rated passer with a sterling performance Monday night in the 49ers' 32-7 thrashing of the Chicago Bears at Candlestick Park.Kaepernick led the 49ers on scoring drives on the first four possessions of the game to open the debate on whether he will -- or should -- supplant Smith as the 49ers' starter on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.Smith was declared inactive after experiencing concussion symptoms late in the week, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. That provided an opening for Kaepernick to show why the 49ers traded up in the second round to select him in the 2011 draft."I wanted to come out and show what I'm capable of and show that I can be a starter," Kaepernick said. "That's what I've been trying to prove since I've been in the league."As for the impending quarterback controversy, Harbaugh said he believes in sticking with what's working."We'll see," Harbaugh said. "I usually tend to go with the guy who has the hot hand. We got two quarterbacks who have a hot hand."RATTO: For the 49ers, it's a full-blown QB controversy
But only one of those quarterbacks played Monday night. Kaepernick completed 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 133.1."I don't think one game can be called a 'hot hand,'" Kaepernick said.With six games remaining in the regular season, the 49ers (7-2-1) take a half-game lead over the Bears and Green Bay Packers (both 7-3) for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs behind the Atlanta Falcons (9-1).
The Bears played Monday without their starting quarterback, as Jay Cutler was also ruled out of action with a concussion. The Bears got considerably less production from their backup, Jason Campbell, as he completed 14 of 22 passes for 107 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Campbell was also sacked six times -- five coming from the bull-rushing Aldon Smith.RELATED: Aldon Smith leads strong defensive showing
Meanwhile, Kaepernick was outstanding. He got into a rhythm early as he hit play-action passes of 8 and 22 yards within the first two plays of the game. The 49ers drove into range for David Akers' 32-yard field goal to open the scoring.
"I thought Colin did an outstanding job," Harbaugh said. "He did a great job, poise in the pocket, pushing the ball down the field, throwing with accuracy. He did a nice job running the game plan. Everything he did was exemplary."Tight end Vernon Davis, who had caught just nine passes for 101 yards and no touchdowns in the past four games, appeared to benefit the most from Kaepernick's first NFL start."I felt like somebody took the handcuffs off me," Davis said.Davis caught six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. And he caught passes on plays in which the ball usually does not come his way, he said. Davis spoke in reverential terms about a Kaepernick fourth-quarter pass in which the ball was thrown despite tight coverage."The ball that he threw me, it was one of those balls that you see Tom Brady throw . . . second window . . . I didn't expect the ball to come because we run that play quite a few times and the tight end usually doesn't get the ball on that play," Davis said of the 11-yard gain. "But he saw it, and he put it there."It was a tight window. It was very, very tight. But he took a shot and he was very confident in himself, obviously, and he made it happen."Kaepernick made all of the throws on Monday, and he did not rely on his legs. He finished the game with just 12 yards on four rushes. He left the running up to Frank Gore, who finished with a game-high 78 yards on 17 attempts. Kendall Hunter added 27 yards and a touchdown on five attempts.On the second drive of the game, Kaepernick made a beautiful deep pass to Kyle Williams for 57 yards. On the next play, Gore picked up Lance Briggs on a blitz, and Kaepernick hit Davis for a 3-yard touchdown.
"We all know the talent he has and what he is capable of, but him just coming out there and just balling like that, making every throw, it's tough to say that you expected him to come in and make every single throw like he did," Williams said.Michael Crabtree caught three passes for 31 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter."I'm not worried about Kaep," Crabtree said. "Kaep's a baller. He's a gamer. He knows one speed and that's 'go.'"Of course, nobody in the 49ers' locker room was taking sides in the quarterback debate. But, certainly, Smith's situation is complicated by the fact that he was not cleared to play. And there is no guarantee he will be cleared to face the Saints, either.
"Not a big mystery here," Harbaugh said, "just felt that Alex still had some symptoms on Sunday and we were going to make the decision to go with Colin."Smith was required to be symptom-free in order to be cleared for practices Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Kaepernick got all of the practice time Saturday and Sunday, Harbaugh said."He (Smith) was having some symptoms later in the week and wanted to make sure that if he didn't get cleared that Colin at least got half the reps or more for the week," Harbaugh said.When asked about his situation after the game, Smith said, "They don't want me talking right now."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). Smith has completed an NFL-best 70 percent of his passes. Smith is 31st in the league in attempts and his 1,731 yards is 29th.Kaepernick was impressive in every aspect of the game. But perhaps the most notable thing about Kaepernick's performance was that the 49ers' offense did not turn the ball over. The Bears came into the game with a league-leading 30 takeaways through nine games."We knew they had a lot of great players that try to strip the ball and try to make some plays on the ball," Kaepernick said. "That was one of the things we emphasized going through the week."

49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?


49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?

Believe it or not, the 49ers’ offense is improved from last season.

The 49ers ranked 31st in the NFL in 2016, averaging 308.1 yards per game. Although the offense is producing just a little better (325.9 yards per game), their ranking this season has shot up to 21st in the league.

The 49ers have had a different head coach and different person running the offense in each of the past four seasons, so their continuity has been severely lacking.

Next season, the 49ers should finally have carryover from one season to the next.

The direction of the offense is one of the topics addressed on this edition of 49ers Mailbag (questions were submitted via Facebook):

Now that we have Jimmy G do you see 49ers getting an offensive coordinator or will it still be Kyle calling the plays? (Julio Orozco)
I'm not sure why the arrival of Jimmy Garoppolo would have any impact on the 49ers’ offensive structure, but in any event, the answer is a resounding, “No.”

Kyle Shanahan has been hailed as one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL. The reason he was hired as 49ers head coach was, in large part, because of the success he achieved while designing offenses and calling plays.

Why would he give that up? It makes no sense.

Rob Demovsky of ESPN this week identified the 32 primary play-callers. There are 18 NFL head coaches with offensive backgrounds. Twelve of those coaches call their own plays.

Shanahan has a staff of assistant coaches on whom he leans. Passing game specialist Mike LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello are closely involved in working with Shanahan on the passing game, while running game specialist Mike McDaniel, offensive line coach John Benton and running backs coach Bobby Turner spearhead the involvement in the ground game.

But, make no mistake, it is Shanahan who calls the shots. And that's the way it should be. If Shanahan stepped aside as his own offensive coordinator, he would be diminishing his biggest strength as a coach.

What do you see happing with the Hyde situation? We drafted Joe Williams and Breida seems to be a bright spot. There’s a lot of talk about Barkley from Penn State with that high 1st rounder. (Manny Hinojos)
There does not seem to be any movement toward a long-term extension for Hyde. It is getting to the point in the season where it makes a lot more sense for Hyde to play out his contract and hit the open market.

There is no question in my mind the 49ers like Hyde a lot. He has scored some major points with the organization for his performance on the field and how he has responded off the field.

GM John Lynch loved it when Hyde came to the defense of quarterback C.J. Beathard, tussled with Arizona lineman Frostee Rucker and got ejected from the game.

That said, the 49ers are not going to break the bank for Hyde. A multi-year agreement has to come at the right price. My personal feeling is that running backs are luxury pieces when the remainder of a team’s roster -- especially the offensive line -- is set.

Shanahan and his father, Mike Shanahan, and Turner (the assistant coach who served on both of their staffs) have achieved a lot of success without investing heavily in running backs. That’s why I think the 49ers would be best-served by investing elsewhere and using another mid-round draft pick on a running back.

With Joshua Garnett coming back next season how aggressive will Lynch and Shanahan be in trying to get guards this offseason? (David Hartless)
Garnett is not a particularly good fit for this offensive scheme. The presence of Garnett can help increase the competition next offseason, but I do not believe he is being penciled in as a starter.

The 49ers will certainly be aggressive in an attempt to upgrade the guard positions. Currently, Laken Tomlinson and Brandon Fusco are the starters. Neither will be assured a starting job when the offseason begins.

The 49ers did not see enough from Garnett to determine he has a future with the organization, but he will be given the opportunity to come back healthy and prove himself.

Is Eric Reid in long-term plans? (Grant Rasmussen)
I do not believe so. I think the 49ers would like their starting safeties next season to be Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt – with Adrian Colbert as the front-runner for the No. 3 job.

The 49ers can also be expected to add a player or two in free agency, as well as the draft, to provide a competitive environment in the offseason. The 49ers seemed to telegraph their intention with Reid when they moved him to linebacker with Ward and Tartt remaining as the starting safeties.

That position change lasted about a week, as Ward’s injury prompted the team to move Reid back to safety. Reid is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. It's entirely possible there will not be a big market for him, but I do not believe the 49ers are going to be ultra-competitive in retaining him on the open market.

49ers GM John Lynch: 'Right now, we don't need him'


49ers GM John Lynch: 'Right now, we don't need him'

When the 49ers acquired their presumptive franchise quarterback in a trade last month, there were two major complications that contributed to skepticism about the future.

Jimmy Garoppolo came to the 49ers with a resume that consisted of only two starts in four NFL seasons. Moreover, Garoppolo was under contract for only half a season before he would be scheduled for unrestricted free agency.

Nothing has changed since Garoppolo arrived from New England with six suitcases packed with clothes and belongings – other than the 49ers appear to feel more resolute in their belief Garoppolo is not just a rental.

General manager John Lynch, the man who must ultimately decide the team’s decision on how to handle Garoppolo’s contract status, said he does not necessarily need coach Kyle Shanahan to quickly assign Garoppolo the starting role to determine his value to the organization.

“No, I don’t think so,” Lynch said for “49ers Game Plan,” which will air Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3). “We know what we like about Jimmy Garoppolo. And that’s only been strengthened by the time that’s he’s been here. We’re just going to let these things play out. That’s in Kyle’s hands.

“People have had all these ideas about why we got Jimmy. We got Jimmy because we think he has big-time ability at the quarterback position. And we believe so much – to get where we need to get – you have to have a franchise quarterback. We think he’s got that ability. Whether that happens, when that happens, we’ll see. But we certainly like his future with the 49ers.”

The 49ers, currently on their bye week, are coming off their first victory of the season. Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard played his best game, throwing for 288 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-21 win over the New York Giants.

Garoppolo is spending his bye week in Santa Clara, meeting with coaches, to continue his cramming of the team’s playbook and offensive philosophy.

“The plan is to continue to get him ready,” Lynch said. “It’s a very different system he played under. A great system, but a different system he played under in New England. And Kyle’s system is complex for a quarterback. There’s a lot of verbiage in every play call. There are a lot of adjustments on every play call that the quarterback controls.

“We want to set Jimmy up for success and also the way C.J.’s playing is helping us sit back. And now we have a bye week. They’re going to work hard during this week to get him up to speed. But right now, we don’t need him. C.J. just played a great game and his teammates really believe in him. We think it’s nothing but a good situation.”