Grant Cohn: Judging 49ers' Colin Kaepernick by Bill Walsh's QB standards
As Jed York and Trent Baalke search for someone who can make Colin Kaepernick a competent pocket passer, keep in mind that Jim Harbaugh, the Quarterback Whisperer, couldn’t do it; George Whitfield, the Quarterback Guru, couldn’t do it; and Bill Walsh, The Genius, almost certainly wouldn’t care to try.
Of course, I can’t prove that last part — Walsh passed away in 2007 — but 10 years before he passed, he wrote an essay for Pro Sports Xchange listing 10 traits a quarterback must have to become great. Kaepernick lacks nine of them.
Those nine are:
1. Instincts. Walsh wrote, “This is the area that can be the difference between a very solid quarterback and a great quarterback.” And then he added, “This isn’t an area you can do much with as a coach.”
Kaepernick has instincts, but they’re the wrong ones. He has athletic instincts, like which way to cut and when to slide. He doesn’t have quarterback instincts, like pocket-pressure awareness, play-clock awareness, game-clock awareness — any type of awareness. Kaepernick plays quarterback like Kramer from “Seinfeld” goes through life — blissfully unaware.
2. Accuracy. Walsh wrote, “It is a plus to be able to throw a ball on a line for 35 yards, but not if it is off target.”
Kaepernick throws the ball as hard as he can in the general vicinity of a receiver and hopes the receiver makes an impossible catch. Walsh didn’t value kind of accurate or accuracy’s second cousin. He demanded total accuracy.
3. Timing. “This involves understanding a system, the receivers in the system, and having great anticipation.”
None of that describes Kaepernick, who rarely throws a pass before his intended receiver makes his break. Kaepernick doesn’t anticipate openings. He waits for openings. He cheerleads his receivers from the pocket and, as he stares down his receiver, you almost can see a comic-book thought bubble form over his head. It says, “Get open, get open, get open. Please.”
4. Touch. “One of Joe Montana’s most remarkable skills was putting the right touch on a pass so that it was easily catchable by a receiver, who often did not have to break stride.”
One of Kaepernick’s most remarkable skills is firing a pass behind a receiver or over a receiver’s head or through a receiver’s hands so that the ball is easily catchable by a defensive back, who often does not have to break stride to make the interception. Kaepernick has zero touch. He throws so hard, he broke one of Randy Moss’ fingers in 2012.
5. An inventory of throws. Walsh defined the complete inventory as “screen passes, timed short passes, medium range passes and down the field throws.”
A quarterback doesn’t have to excel at all four throws, just like a pitcher doesn’t have to throw four pitches. Three is enough. Joe Montana lacked the arm strength to throw downfield, but he could make all the other throws. Kaepernick has just one throw — a fastball. He lacks the touch to effectively throw screen passes, short passes or deep passes.
6. A quick delivery. Walsh required quarterbacks “to get the ball up and gone with no wasted motion.”
Kaepernick wastes motion. He winds up a like a pitcher, brings the ball down and around before he releases it. His windup, plus his inability to anticipate openings downfield, makes his delivery the slowest in the NFL.