The Niners front office will enter the 2014 season believing that the Nevada product can do just that, giving their QB a six-year $126 million extension back in June.
While few can deny that Kaepernick has loads of potential, possessing one of the strongest arms in the league and having the ability to make big plays with his legs, you can't overlook his struggles with progression reads and how he has benefited from a great defense when looking at his win-loss record.
The 49ers ranked 30th in the league in passing yards with 2,979, however, that stat alone doesn't do the whole story justice. The red and gold's projected no. 1 receiver in Michael Crabtree was out due to injury for the majority of the season thanks to a torn Achilles. The loss of Crabtree's play making abilities made wide out Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis premium targets for opposing defenses, while Kaepernick struggled to gain trust with any of Crabtree's replacements. Nothing backed up that notion more than the fact that 20 of Kaepernick’s 21 touchdown passes were to either Boldin or Davis.
Consequently, a significant portion of the offseason this year has been focused on the wide receiver position. Over the past few months, the Niners have added Stevie Johnson (traded for a conditional fourth-round pick to Buffalo), signed Brandon Lloyd and drafted Bruce Ellington out of South Carolina in the fourth round, while also assuring the return of Boldin by resigning him to a two-year contract.
Yes, this is a run first offense anchored by arguably the best offensive line in football when at full strength, and driven by work horse running back Frank Gore. But with Gore at 31 years young and nine years of nearly 2,200 carries under his belt, the end of the line is drawing near for the tailback. Kaepernick must then take much of the burden off of the running game to ensure that it will still be fresh come playoff time.
The team has addressed its depth problem at the skill positions and has announced that it will "open up the playbook" a bit more for Kaepernick. This figures to eliminate any notion of holding back their fourth year quarterback.
But regardless of what is said or even done on offense, over the past three seasons the 49ers elite defense has performed so well that the offense rarely had to outperform them…this may not be the case in 2014.
With outside linebacker Aldon Smith's legal issues continuously swirling around, it’s no guarantee that Aldon will be in pads for the entire season, in fact, NBC's Mike Florio reported that the league office expects to suspend Aldon for at least one game.
According to SFGate's Kevin Lynch, Defensive end Justin Smith went in for an "undisclosed medical treatment" and at 35 years old, may not be ready for training camp.
All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman is still recovering from his MCL and ACL injury that he suffered towards the end of last season’s NFC Championship Game and is expected to miss at least half of the regular season. If and when he does return, there's no way of predicting how strong he will be, much like Crabtree last season.
Finally, the secondary is somewhat young and new to each other. Free agent signee Antoine Bathea replaces Donte' Whitener, rookie Jimmie Ward figures to see time as the primary nickel back, and Tramaine Brock will be tested to see if he can duplicate last year’s breakout season and maintain it throughout this year’s campaign as a full-time starter…sounds familiar right?
Which brings us back to Kaepernick; he is entering into his fourth year of pro ball, but only has one regular season under his belt where he was the full time starter. So can he really emerge as a star at this point in his career? Nobody is expecting Peyton Manning like numbers, not all “stars” are based off of how many categories they lead the league in at the end of the season (Russell Wilson is on that cusp…if not already there), but when the stage is set and there’s adversity afoot, the questions must stop…And that’s when the stars shin the brightest.
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