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“If Colin Kaepernick were to come to you and say, ‘Jeff, I’ve topped out as an NFL quarterback, I don’t have the answers, I want to be the best I can be I and I want you to mold me,’ what would you say? What would you do with him? How good could he be with you as his coach?” These are the questions I ask.

The “Jeff” I’m asking over the phone is Jeff Garcia, the four-time Pro Bowl quarterback and the last protégé of the great Bill Walsh. That Jeff.

He takes a deep breath. “I don’t know. It all starts with wanting to be coached. I’ve… I’ve… I’ve, uh….” – Garcia chooses words carefully here – “I’ve been more than willing to have that opportunity to work with him in the past and, for whatever reason, it just hasn’t materialized.”

Kaepernick turned him down – that’s the reason. Went to Kurt Warner for help instead. And we see how that turned out. Not good.

Back to Garcia: “You have to want to change. You have to want to adapt yourself to what is going to allow you to be successful in the NFL, and it goes beyond just mechanics. It’s mental. The approach.

“I would want to just hear how he sees the game and how he talks about the game and what he sees when he steps to the line of scrimmage and what starts to go through his mind as far as the decision-making process. When you look at the great quarterbacks in the NFL, they’re able to foresee certain things that are happening, but they’re not predetermining their decision-making because things can change at the snap of the ball. To be able to go through the process of elimination in your mind and to be able to do that quickly, that takes a special gift, a special talent, and it takes a lot of repetition.

“You have to have it all. You have to have good feet. You have to have a quick delivery. You have to have a great mindset and an ability to adapt, an ability to read, an ability to process in a matter of two, three seconds. Being able to see how that all works within him, how he’s wired, would be the interesting thing to experience, and then take it from there. Because there will have to be some breakdown and build back up if he wants to be what he wants to be in the NFL.”

“Do you think Bill Walsh would have wanted to coach Kaepernick, or would Walsh have passed on that project?” I ask.

“You know,” Garcia says, and then he sighs. “I don’t want to make this a negative thing about Colin. Whether he is a guy that Bill would have liked or not, I think Bill would have taken on the opportunity to help mold and build Colin into a quarterback that can run his system efficiently.

“With Bill, it wasn’t just ‘my way or the highway.’ He would adapt to your abilities. And I think that is important, because Colin is a different type of quarterback. He brings a different skill set than a lot of other quarterbacks that are out there. And that’s one of the things from an athletic-ability standpoint he was able to get away with or utilize earlier in his first couple years of playing that he’s not having a chance to utilize as much today.

“A lot of that is because defensive coordinators adapt and learn how to take his strength away and force him into his weaknesses. And I think teams have been able to find with Colin is that he is not a guy that is comfortable standing in the pocket five to six yards deep behind the center and staying at that point and going through his progressions. He’s just not that style of guy. They’ve forced him to stay in that area. They’re not letting him get outside like he used to get outside. And part of that is your offensive package and what you do to create opportunities for your quarterback to be outside on the edge. I don’t know if that’s something that Chip Kelly does a whole lot of or has been able to do a whole lot of with Colin there this year.

“I know one thing for sure: When the 49ers had Frank Gore and a very good offensive line, they forced defenses into a lot of eight-man boxes. And that created more one-on-one opportunities on the outside, which made it easier for Colin. He wasn’t having to find holes in zones. He was finding one-on-one matchups and hoping that his guy won.

“These days, there’s not a huge threat from the 49ers whether it’s running the ball or passing the ball. So, defenses are forcing Colin to be a good decision-maker, to go through the process of elimination of reading a defensive coverage, going through your progression 1, 2, 3 – it might be a check down to your back as No. 4. Is he capable of going through that sort of progression?”

“No,” I say to Garcia. “The way I see it, he still reads just one half of the field, and he locks on the first progression too long as if he’s rooting for the receiver to get open. But, I want to come back to what you said about moving the pocket. As I watched the 49ers play the Falcons last week, I noticed Atlanta’s offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, had Matt Ryan rolling out a lot. And I thought, ‘If one offense could revive Kaepernick’s career, it’s Shanahan’s offense. Do you agree?”

“Well, absolutely,” Garcia says. “I’ve always loved Shanahan’s offense, and it started with his dad in Denver, the way they utilized the movement of a quarterback. And they took it to Houston with Gary Kubiak. He had Matt Schaub who is 6’6” and not mobile at all, and all of a sudden they’re running a bootleg or a naked and Schaub is all by himself outside on the corner setting up to throw balls 20, 40, 50 yards down the field.

“Now, look at Matt Ryan in that offense. He always has different setup points. And they attack down the field, they put pressure on the safeties with deep crossing routes and deep posts and they create opportunities that the 49ers don’t create on offense. And you’re right, I think that’s an offense that could potentially be something that Colin could thrive in.

“But, it’s also a West Coast style of offense, and what you say about reads and progressions I completely agree with. Colin picks one guy and sticks with that one guy, and he hangs on him too long, and he doesn’t get to that second guy, and by then the second guy is covered, and he’s not getting to the third guy, and so now he’s looking to run at that point. For an athlete like him, he gets sacked more than he should because he’s not getting through his progression.

“So even though Shanahan moves the pocket and utilizes that ability with Matt Ryan in Atlanta, when they do set up in the pocket, there are progressions, and it’s 1, 2, 3, 4. And you’ve got to be able to see what defenses are doing pre-snap, and then post-snap where they’re moving, and then you eliminate. You may eliminate No. 1 before the ball is even snapped, just based upon the coverage. You’ve got to be able to do that mentally. You’ve got to be able to come to No. 2 maybe within your third step of a five-step drop. And then by the fifth step, No. 2 is eliminated, and you’re on to No. 3.

“That’s how quickly it has to happen, because nothing that you draw up is going to show up perfectly on the field every time you call it. And so you have to be able to have a quarterback who’s able to save the coach’s tail by being a great decision maker and going through the process of elimination. That’s how you get the ball out fast, that’s how you take the pressure off of your offensive line, that’s how you eliminate mistakes, that’s how you don’t force balls, that’s how you take away negative plays. And if you can’t do that, you’re going to struggle.”

“Do you think Kaepernick has a future in the NFL?” I ask. “He said last season he’s ‘not huge’ on mechanics, and a few weeks ago he said he just has to ‘go out and play’ at this point in his career. Those are direct quotes. If that’s his mindset, do you think he’ll he be out of the league soon?”

Garcia sighs again. “It’s difficult to say. I think one thing is for sure – if you become satisfied or content with who you are, then you’re not going to continue to climb and be the leader you need to be for your team and to be successful doing your craft.

“There is no place for contentment in the NFL. It just does not work. You never know as much as your coaches know. Your coaches spend more time than anybody else studying, breaking down film, putting a game plan together. I know – I’ve been there. I’ve experienced it on the coaching side as well.

“I’ll you one thing. The guys like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, even Russell Wilson – the elites of the NFL never stop soaking in the knowledge. Never stop putting themselves around people that are going to challenge them to be better than they currently are right now. Guys like that are the guys that you want to surround yourself with. When you surround yourself with those types of people, it brings out the best in you.

“If you don’t want to surround yourself with those types of people, with the elite of the NFL, and you want to just go off and do your own thing, then you’re never going to find that spark that’s being lit under your tail to force you to be better than what you currently are. If you’re content, I’m sorry, you’re not going to last a whole lot longer in the NFL.”

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.