Thursday night’s matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers at Candlestick Park was a lopsided contest from start to finish. From the 11 play, 66 yard opening drive in which the 49ers efficiently marched their way down the field, to the final drive where they marched 71 yards on 11 plays, San Francisco took it to the lightning bolts for 60 minutes winning the game 35-3.
Typical of a final preseason contest, most starters saw limited action and many key players on offense and defense didn’t play at all.
While Phillip Rivers was kept in the game by San Diego’s head coach Norv Turner for the entire first quarter, Alex Smith started the game, handed the ball off five times, and grabbed the clipboard for the rest of the night.
Smith was replaced by backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the middle of the first drive and finished it in superb fashion.
Kapernick, who has been working tirelessly on his throwing mechanics, made an impressive pass to Bruce Miller in his second attempt of the game, completing a throw that displayed how much he’s improved in such a short amount of time.
Armed with explosive foot speed, Kaepernick was flushed out of the pocket to his left rolling laterally long enough to bring the defense up to defend him, which opened up Miller down the left sideline.
With an impressive quick release on the run, Kaepernick zipped the ball to Miller on the San Diego three yard line setting up the 49ers first touchdown.
On the very next drive Kaepernick continued to dazzle as he threw another beautiful pass on the run with incredible ease. After dropping back and feeling the pocket collapse, Kaepernick was forced to step up and move to his left again. In full stride, Kaepernick threw a perfectly placed dart to Delanie Walker for a 32 yard touchdown.
In was the first of two touchdown passes Kaepernick would throw as the 49ers jumped out to a 21-0 lead at the half.
Part of San Francisco’s success was based on San Diego’s ineptitude. The Chargers turned the ball over in their first two drives on a fumble by Antonio Gates and an interception thrown by Phillip Rivers.
After Rivers left the game, the 49ers defense pounded the Chargers backup Charlie Whitehurst sacking him twice and wreaking havoc for him on most attempts.
The second half featured the battle for third string quarterback as Scott Tolzien and Josh Johnson both saw action.
Johnson made the most of his time throwing for two touchdowns and more importantly, orchestrating two long drives for the 49ers, a 12-play 68 yard touchdown drive in the third, and an 11-play 71 yard drive that ended the game with a kneel down on the San Diego 2 yard line.
Tolzien, who only completed three passes in eight attempts, didn’t throw the ball well and at times, looked completely out of sync.
While Johnson’s performance was a plus for the 49ers, the real story of the night was the man who will be backing up Smith at quarterback.
Kaepernick finished the game 12 of 18 with two touchdowns and 158 yards passing in two quarters of play. More impressively is how comfortable he looked in the pocket and how accurate he was throwing the ball.
Kaepernick has always had a big arm with plenty of strength to muscle a ball down field, but the accuracy and type of spiral has repeatedly been questioned.
The second round draft pick in the 2011 draft was a raw product out of Nevada last year and often looked clunky in the pocket. Working non-stop on his mechanics this offseason and through camp, it’s clear the work is paying off.
Along with his ability to throw effectively on the run, Kaepernick also displayed his prowess in the pocket by hitting his targets in stride on multiple occasions.
Coach Jim Harbaugh talked about his backup quarterback’s performance after the game.
“That is just natural ability. He’s been making improvements and strides since he got here. He can throw on the run extremely well. He’s got speed. He can escape, good arm strength, very smart.”
There’s no doubt Kaepernick has a ton of natural ability but that doesn’t always translate to playing quarterback in the NFL.
Thursday night showed that Kaepernick is willing to work on his footwork under the center and in the pocket, his throwing motion and release, and his ability to know the offense to look down field and find the open receiver.
While there is no quarterback controversy in San Francisco, Harbaugh clearly feels good about the development of his second string quarterback and will likely use Kaepernick throughout the season in wildcat packages, and potentially a whole lot more.