Jim Harbaugh has done nothing to justify making Colin Kaepernick the 49ers&’ starting quarterback instead of Alex Smith.


COHN: 49ers keeping Kaepernick in cocoon

  • Colin Kaepernick scrambled for 53 yards on 6 carries on Sunday. The San Francisco 49ers beat the Miami Dolphins 27-13 on December 9, 2012. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Jim Harbaugh has done nothing to justify making Colin Kaepernick the 49ers' starting quarterback instead of Alex Smith.

I long have advocated Kaepernick over Smith, believe he is the superior quarterback. But Harbaugh has done such a poor job of making the transition, I wonder why he bothered in the first place.

Several times Harbaugh has insisted he did not change the offense for Kaepernick. When asked on Wednesday if he has made any dramatic or significant changes in the offense for Kaepernick, Harbaugh replied, "I wouldn't get too tied up with words — &‘dramatic,' &‘significant.' There are definite things we're doing that tailor the offense to his skill set."

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Someone asked if the diamond formation the Niners used against the Dolphins is one of those changes.

"That's one formation that was in before when Alex was playing," Harbaugh said. "There have been some plays - just some plays, some scheme — Alex doesn't ... er ... they both do a good job with. But Kap in particular ..."

Then the coach trailed off into Nonverbal Land.

Let's be clear about this. Harbaugh is saying he's made only minor changes in the offensive plan after he made the major change of dumping one quarterback midseason in favor of another. The mind reels.

Harbaugh has talked ardently and poetically about the attributes of Kaepernick that separate him from Smith. He justifies playing Kaepernick and not Smith because Kaepernick has better legs, is elusive, extends plays, has a better escape instinct in the pocket, is a specialist at the zone-read option, has a stronger arm and can make the big "chunk" pass over the middle.

Yet, Harbaugh is still running the same cautious, safety-first, wimp offense. So, what's to be gained by using Kaepernick? Harbaugh, who had the guts to make the switch, doesn't have the guts to use the switch. He should adapt and enhance the playbook for Kaepernick's unique skills. Harbaugh is wasting Kaepernick.

Smith could run the current, timid version of the Niners' offense as well as Kaepernick, maybe better. Smith still is No. 2 in the league for passer rating, one-tenth of a point behind the co-leaders, Robert Griffin III and Tom Brady. He has completed better than 70 percent of his passes. He has a higher passer rating and completion percentage than Kaepernick, and he performed at a high level in the limited ways Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman used him — the same ways they use Kaepernick. So, why bench him for Kaepernick if the Niners are not changing the offense?

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