Kaepernick's insertion as 49ers' starting QB solves two problems

Kaepernick's insertion as 49ers' starting QB solves two problems

The next step in the end of the Colin Kaepernick Era has been taken, so everyone raise a stein and salute the death of the king.

Kaepernick was named the starting quarterback for Sunday’s 49ers game against Buffalo, the apparent end of several days of whirlwind negotiations over a restructured contract that would make it easier for York.co to endure an injury to him.

In other words, it is now financially (if not exactly medically) safe for Kaepernick to be thrown to the last 11 sets of wolves on the 49ers schedule.

In other other words, Kaepernick has made it possible for the team to play him without worrying about the catastrophic injury that would keep him on the payroll in 2017 as the world’s most expensive backup quarterback.

Because that, after all, is the real reason the 49ers exist, the real reason you as a fan pay attention them, or go to their games, or buy their $95 sweatshirts – so that they can look at the payroll during this freefall and feel less constricted by the tens of millions in cap space they seem so loath to use.

You see, the dirty little non-secret here is that Kaepernick’s insertion solves two problems, neither of them steps forward in the team beginning its climb out of the sinkhole they’ve made of their on-field operation.

For one, Kaepernick is the answer to the question, “Who’s the best quarterback on the roster not named Blaine Gabbert?” That’s been the one subject people have fixated upon since the season started – the quarterback as the most obvious reason the 49ers have their richly deserved 1-4. This continues the decades-old perception that football analysis is really the reductio ad absurbum of one person and 21 mules, and utterly misses the real truth about football – that a quarterback thrives only when he has a running game, an offensive line that can both run- and pass-block, a set of receivers who can catch difficult passes, and a set of plays that maximize their talents as a unit.

The rebuttal to this argument, of course, is, “But the quarterback is what people want to talk about,” which is sufficient reason to ignore the easily perceived facts as they present themselves to us on a weekly basis.

And this is not a defense of Blaine Gabbert by any means. He did not overcome his surroundings by any means, and under normal circumstances wouldn’t have started to begin with.

And the second problem he solves is hastening the end of the Harbaugh Hangover that grips the big offices. He was Jim Harbaugh’s chosen path to Super Bowl success, victories too numerous to count, massive salary increases, a legacy to encroach upon that of Bill Walsh (the last man to save this franchise from clue-deficient ownership) and an entire franchise at his feet. And let’s not discount the levels of lunacy that engendered in both sides of that little team-destabilizing spit-fest.

Kaepernick will finish out his 49er career trying to play lead Band-aid on a wound that isn’t so easily cauterized. The 49ers are still what they have revealed themselves to be – a 1-4 team, and starting Kaepernick makes little difference than starting Gabbert, or Christian Ponder. The team has no plan to retain Kaepernick for 2017, and is probably frightened that he will play just well enough to force them to bring him back healthy while they search for a better quarterback that the colleges don’t seem to be offering.

In that way, the much-discussed owner-friendly contract Kaepernick signed has become a choke chain around their necks ever since, and the Fightin’ Yorks have been revealed as a cash-first, win-second operation – a team run for the comfort of the business expertise of the owner rather than the satisfaction of the players and coaches and joy of the fan base.

This isn’t the cheery development 49ers fans want this to be. They want some time to celebrate Gabbert’s demotion and dream of the 10-6 record, the playoff berth, the improbable postseason upsets and the parade that hasn’t happened in 22 years that Anybody But Gabbert could mean – except, of course, for those fans who rather than 49ers used Joe Staley, Al Guido or a really clever spaniel as quarterback rather than the notorious anthem-kneeler, social critic and pot-stirrer, vegan fifth-columnist and possible spy.

Because, hey, when you’re going to stereotype someone with an idea that bothers your own ritualized preconceptions, Ruth Bader Who Asked You, you may as well throw deep.

But let’s keep this to the football, because that’s what this move actually is about, more or less, give or a take a few million in future money that the team would spend on not spending. After all, with the post-Harbaugh 49ers, you come to expect the brightly wrapped present with the credit card bill taped to the ribbon. The Raiders, the team that seems to have figured this football thing out, must look at Tuesday’s news and laugh sardonically, having lived through these false quarterback choices for more than a decade.

These aren’t the Raiders. These are the 49ers, trying to spruce up a chemical factory explosion by calling it a ritual bonfire for the whole family. If that’s their idea of fun, swell, and if you think exchanging Gabbert for Kaepernick is a corner-turning experience, fine again.

Mostly, what it seems to be is swapping out a pair of ill-fitting brown shoes for a pair of ill-fitting cordovan shoes of the same size. They still hurt your feet, but at least they look different when you take them out of the closet.

'Extra credit' work helped Raheem Mostert meet Kyle Shanahan's challenge


'Extra credit' work helped Raheem Mostert meet Kyle Shanahan's challenge

SANTA CLARA - One of the bright spots in the 49ers loss to the Green Bay Packers was the performance of running back Raheem Mostert. 

Mostert had a tough go the week before when he fumbled the ball on his first carry facing the Arizona Cardinals. Coach Kyle Shanahan challenged the running back after the mishap and Mostert said he took it to heart. 

“I need you to step up,” Mostert said Shanahan told him. “I need you to focus more on ball control. I know you don’t get many reps in practice but when you do, you have to make them count.” 

Mostert understood that as a physical challenge as well as a mental one. He took more reps in practice with the absence of Matt Breida, who was out due to an ankle injury. He asked defenders to go after the ball more aggressively while he was carrying the ball in practice.

He even stayed after practice for “extra credit” to work on ball security drills. Guess what? No one forced a fumble when he was carrying the ball in practice or in the game, even though they tried. 

Mostert closed out the night at Lambeau Field as the game’s top rusher with 12 carries for 87 yards, giving him an average of 7.3 yards per carry. He still isn’t satisfied. He is his own toughest critic, he said.

“I left a lot of yards out on the field especially with my speed,” Mostert said. ”I felt like I could have gotten to the edge a little bit faster. I watched the film and I was really hard on myself even though I had some good runs. I also had mental busts in the game too, which I’m not proud of. That’s something I have to continue to work on, being mentally sharp and for that transition to be more effective in the pass game.” 

Mostert has been known as a special-teams star for most of his NFL career and has just been waiting for his number to get called as a running back. He said he believes he and Breida complement each other well with their similar styles of play.

When asked who of the two would be lightning and who would be thunder, Mostert replied, “Matt is always lightning.”

49ers cornerback Greg Mabin reflects on tough ending in loss to Packers


49ers cornerback Greg Mabin reflects on tough ending in loss to Packers

SANTA CLARA — In the 49ers' heart-breaking loss to the Green Bay Packers on Monday night, Aaron Rodgers did what he is known for -- putting together an 81-yard, game-winning drive with 1:07 left on the clock and no timeouts left.

At that point in the game, 49ers cornerback Jimmie Ward had been playing well, but he was out of the action with a hamstring injury. Greg Mabin took his place, and Rodgers exploited the young defensive back instead of trying to target Richard Sherman’s side of the field.

In the end, the 49ers racked up their fifth loss of the season.

Mabin was in coverage against Davante Adams, who made a leaping 16-yard touchdown catch to tie the score. Then, Mabin surrendered three consecutive pass plays on the Packers’ game-winning drive. Each time, the man Mabin was covering got out of bounds to stop the clock.

“It was a tough position for Mabin,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday. “He’s done a lot of good things for us. I know he was disappointed in that last drive, obviously, but I’ve seen Aaron and Davante do that to a number of people, too.”

Sitting in 30-degree weather for the entire game except for special-team snaps could have been an excuse, but Mabin took 100 percent responsibility.

“I guess it could, but at the end of the day, if I’m out there I have a job that I have to do, and I wasn’t able to get the job done,” Mabin said. “You just have to go out there and do what you’ve been practicing all week. There’s not much thought to it.” 

Mabin, a second-year undrafted free agent, is taking the loss and his play very hard, and he even explained that one play didn't stand out more than another. 

“All of them,” he said. “... They all hurt pretty bad. I wish I could go back in time and change some things, but obviously I can’t. I have to live with how I played. We have to live with how we played and from now on just move forward and focus on L.A. this week.” 

Shanahan said the 49ers knew throughout the week that Mabin would be Ward’s backup and Ahkello Witherspoon would take a back seat. Mabin said he approached practice just like every other week, knowing his role. He watched film and felt like he had a good week of practice but added, “Ultimately things just didn’t go my way.” 

When Shanahan was asked if the issue of letting Packers players stop the clock by getting out of bounds was situational football or a lack of awareness on Mabin’s part, the coach responded: “I think it’s a little of both. He gets put in a tough situation.”

Sherman, who has been an advocate and on-the-field coach for the young 49ers secondary, did have a conversation with Mabin about moving forward especially when the focus of the public eye is on you. 

“He talked with me a little bit, and it definitely helped my mindset at the time, and right now, it still hurts,” Mabin said. “But I’m just happy that I have a chance to go out there and practice today, and have a chance to improve.”