Quarterback Colin Kaepernick played often in the exhibition season of his rookie year, but rarely got into regular-season games.
The list is star-studded: Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Schaub.
Each current NFL quarterback came into the league eager to play, then had to sit for at least one year on the bench -- or longer -- before getting a chance to start.
In the case of Rodgers at Green Bay, he had to wait three seasons behind Brett Favre. For Rivers in San Diego, it was two.
When each got his chance – after watching and learning in a low-pressure backup role – he made the best of it. Today, the five rank among the NFL’s best.
So for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, standing on the sidelines a while may not be the most enjoyable experience, but it could be best for his long-term growth.
Recently Kaepernick, who as a rookie backed up Alex Smith this past season, told reporters he’d been told head coach Jim Harbaugh was going to give him a chance to earn the starting quarterback spot in this summer’s training camp.
“Someone told me coach Harbaugh said it’s an open job,” Kaepernick told the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Dan Hinxman. “It will be earned. I think they’ll give me a fair shot.”
Added Kaepernick: “I plan on being in San Francisco and plan on trying to take the starting job. That’s what your goal is as a football player.”
No doubt Kaepernick will be given plenty of time to run with the first-team offense and play in exhibition games. No doubt the coaching staff will spend plenty of time helping him develop this offseason and in camp. But if the 49ers re-sign Smith, which they are expected to do, it likely will take an injury to Smith to put Kaepernick in the starting lineup.
Smith had his best season in his career in leading the 49ers to a 13-3 regular-season record and the NFC Championship Game. The team has been open about its intent to re-sign Smith, who is an unrestricted free agent.
“We’re all in lockstep as an organization that Alex Smith is our guy,” Harbaugh said last week. “It’s well-documented. You saw the way he played this year. (He is a) tremendous leader on our football team.”
Kaepernick, a second-round draft pick, showed flashes of what he can do in the preseason. He’s big (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) and a great running quarterback. At Nevada Reno he was the only major division quarterback to have ever passed for more than 2,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,000 for three straight seasons. In his final season at Nevada, Kaepernick completed 64.9 percent of his throws for 3,022 yards, 21 TDs and just eight interceptions.
In the exhibition season, Kaepernick showed athleticism and potential, but completed just 24-of-50 passes for 257 yards, didn’t throw a TD pass and was picked off five times. Then in his first season in San Francisco, he played in just three regular-season games and completed 3-of-5 passes for 35 yards.
Now, he’s getting ready to fine-tune his game in preparation for his second NFL season. He says Niners coaches have told him they want him to concentrate on his mechanics and arm angles.
Another season or two in Harbaugh’s system, learning from the former NFL QB and from Smith without experiencing growing pains, is his likely career path.
Will he win the starting job next season? Most likely, no.
But is that a bad thing? No. It’s probably the best thing for his long-term success in the NFL.