Kaepernick explains why he's running better than ever under Kelly

Kaepernick explains why he's running better than ever under Kelly

ORLANDO, Fla. – After returning from the bye week, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has enjoyed increased success in Chip Kelly’s system.

Not only is his passing improved in the past four games, but Kaepernick is also enjoying his most NFL success as a runner.

“I think part of it is this offense lends itself to that,” Kaepernick said. “There’s more opportunities for that, especially being in three-receiver sets most of the time. There’s a lot more space out there, so scramble lanes are bigger. When we do run zone read, there’s more space there, as well. “

Kaepernick is averaging 62.2 yards rushing per game in his six starts. His previous high was 39.9 yards, when he gained a career-high 639 yards rushing while making 16 starts in 2014.

Kaepernick has gained 76 percent of his rushing yards on scrambles, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He is averaging 8.1 yards per rushing attempt, which is tops in the league among players with 110 yards or more on the ground this season. Kaepernick has 373 rushing yards and one touchdown on 46 attempts.

“I think he’s doing a good job of making that decision,” 49ers offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins said. “He’s the quarterback. He’s out there, he’s in control and when he sees an opportunity he’s taken advantage of it.

“So whether you can draw it up for him to see, I think we don’t have to. I think he’s doing a good job of taking advantage of those opportunities. I think he’s throwing it well, he’s doing some good things and when the opportunity presents itself he uses his legs. So, that helps tremendously and that’s part of the game and that’s part of his game.”

Torrey Smith said it creates a nice problem for wide receivers to figure out how to respond when Kaepernick leaves the pocket.

“Kap’s not a guy who just takes off and doesn’t look downfield, so it’s a fine line of you have to see if he’s past the line of scrimmage, yet,” Smith said. “Do I need to work toward him? Should I break off and go deep? Or do you start blocking? Sometimes it’s tough, but it’s a good dilemma to have because oftentimes it’s already 10 or 15 yards down the field.”

Kaepernick is also finding success in the passing game in recent weeks. In the past four weeks, Kaepernick has completed 59 percent of his attempts while averaging 277.5 yards passing. He has eight touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 96.0 since the bye week.

“I think it’s showing more and more every week,” Kaepernick said. “The more I get comfortable. The more receivers and offensive line get comfortable with what’s going on, I think we put up more and more yards and give ourselves more and more opportunities to score. Now we just have to convert those opportunities into points.”

Kaepernick’s play in recent weeks has appeared to open the door for the possibility that he could be a top option to return to the 49ers next season, assuming Chip Kelly is back as head coach.

But when asked about the possibility of remaining with the organization in 2017, Kaepernick said his focus is on ending the 49ers’ 10-game losing streak on Sunday against the Chicago Bears.

“I’m not thinking that far down the road,” Kaepernick said. “But that’s very true, as far as quarterbacks being in a system they’re familiar with, they’re familiar with the coach, why they’re calling plays. They’re on the same page, so when you step on that field, you know exactly why your coach is calling that play and what his intent is and what you’re trying to get done.”

Kaepernick, who requested permission to seek a trade in the offseason, can opt out of his contract after this season. If Kaepernick does not opt out, the 49ers would have to decide whether to retain him at his scheduled pay of $14.9 million for the 2017 season.

49ers set aside cap space with an eye to the future


49ers set aside cap space with an eye to the future

The first wave of free agency is over, and the 49ers struck quickly.

The club identified two players coach Kyle Shanahan tabbed as fits for his offense and they paid the money it took to get them.

General manager John Lynch said there were five teams seriously interested in free-agent running back Jerick McKinnon. Even more teams were going after center Weston Richburg, he said.

That drove up the prices on McKinnon and Richburg to the point that they rank behind only quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo ($37 million) as taking up the most cap space among the 72 players currently under contract to the 49ers.

McKinnon and Richburg account for $10.5 million and $9.26 million, respectively, on the 49ers' salary cap. Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman's deal takes up $6.175 million on the 49ers' cap this season.

The big spending to attract free agents to the team is likely over. The 49ers have $45.1 million in cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. That figure does not include a projected $8.3 million to sign their 2018 rookie class, according to overthecap.com.

The major spending for this offseason is over because the 49ers have apparently looked to the future and set aside cap space with the idea of retaining some of their own players whose contracts are winding down.

The first decisions for the future must occur by May 3, the deadline for picking up the fifth-year options on first-round picks from the 2015 draft. The 49ers have decisions to make on defensive lineman Arik Armstread and left guard Laken Tomlinson, who was acquired from Detroit in a trade just prior to the start of the 2017 regular season.

It is still unclear how or if Armstead’s skills fit into the 49ers’ defense. He opened last season at the team's pass-rush end before moving to the "big end," which also appears to be first-round pick Solomon Thomas' best position.

Tomlinson showed reasons for the 49ers to be optimistic about his future as his play got better as he acclimated to the offense. Among the guards already on the 49ers’ roster, Tomlinson appears to be the most likely to be a starter in 2018.

Presumptive starting safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents next offseason. Ward’s fifth-year option deal of one-year, $8.526 million became fully guaranteed last Wednesday. But in order for the 49ers to make a multi-year commitment, Ward would likely have to prove he can remain healthy and available for a full season.

DeForest Buckner is likely the target for the next blockbuster contract extension. Buckner has emerged as one of the top young defensive linemen in the league. Next offseason will be the first time the 49ers are permitted to negotiate a multi-year extension with him.

With a scarcity of offensive linemen available in the draft and free agency, right tackle Trent Brown could be set to cash in with an enormous deal next offseason – either with the 49ers or some other team.

DL Arik Armstead
FS Jimmie Ward
SS Jaquiski Tartt
RT Trent Brown
LB Eli Harold
LG Laken Tomlinson
K Robbie Gould
P Bradley Pinion

DL DeForest Buckner
LT Joe Staley
OG Joshua Garnett
DL Ronald Blair
TE Garrett Celek
RB Matt Breida (RFA)
WR Kendrick Bourne (RFA)

Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in


Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in

The 49ers concluded the first wave of the free-agent signing period with the signings of players to fill the team’s biggest offseason needs.

--Cornerback. Aqib Talib would have been the answer in a trade with the Denver Broncos, but he wanted to play elsewhere. Instead, the 49ers signed veteran Richard Sherman, whom the Seattle Seahawks cut a day earlier.

--Interior offensive line. Center Weston Richburg was the player the team had rated as their top target in free agency, and they signed him to a lucrative five-year deal.

--Running back. The team decided Jerick McKinnon was a better fit than Carlos Hyde. They wrapped him up with a four-year contract.

--Edge rusher. Lacking many options in free agency, the 49ers signed Jeremiah Attaochu to a one-year contract in hopes he will earn a spot on the team and make a contribution at the “Leo” position.

The 49ers can still use more help at a number of different positions, including cornerback, wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker and edge rusher. While the 49ers might add some role players in the second wave of free agency, most of the major acquisitions at this point are likely to come in the draft.

On the 49ers Insider Podcast, 49ers vice president of player personnel Adam Peters addressed what positions he believes are strong in this year’s draft.

“I think running backs, absolutely. It’s a deep position,” Peters said. “Quarterbacks at the top is deeper than it was last year. Secondary, corners, it’s not deeper than it was last year, but it’s a strong class of corners. Those are the main ones. The offensive line class is a little better than last year, too.”

The 49ers got major contributions from their rookie class last season. Tight end George Kittle, receiver Trent Taylor, quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back Matt Breida, defensive lineman Solomom Thomas, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Adrian Colbert each played more than 300 snaps.

The 49ers feel good about Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, as a starter with Sherman on the other side. Peters said a lot of the team’s rookies played larger roles than expected in 2017, but Witherspoon might have been at the top of the list.

“I don’t think he was active for the first four games,” Peters said of Witherspoon. “And he ended up playing at a high level at the end. Really driven, conscientious player who wants to be great. 

"We were lucky we got a chance to play a lot of rookies because that’ll help us moving forward.”