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.