As a quarterback, Colin Kaepernick has all the physical tools.
He has a strong arm and fast feet and can make plays that most other quarterbacks can only dream of making. His late touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin in the NFC Championship Game loss to Seattle was rifled over a defender while on the move and off balance, and his open-field running and long strides often leave defenders out of position for tackles. He's physically gifted.
But on Thursday in New York, Kaepernick displayed the leadership, drive and character that have endeared him to his teammates and coaches.
In a Super Bowl-week radio interview on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning Show,” the 49ers quarterback spoke at length about the loss to Seattle, Richard Sherman’s postgame antics and how much he wants to win, and it was loud and clear that the young quarterback – like his head coach, Jim Harbaugh – is driven to succeed.
The Monday after the NFC Championship Game loss, Harbaugh noted that the first player to arrive for work the next day was Kaepernick. And Kaepernick sounds eager to work as hard as possible this offseason to get the 49ers back into position to get back to the Super Bowl and win it.
He said that his shortcomings and mistakes are what fuel him for the future.
“It helps motivate me,” Kaepernick said. “When I go into a workout or when I go into a practice, when I have it in my mind that people are doubting me, or thinking I can’t do this or I can’t do that, that helps me. … It really makes me stronger.”
He admitted it’s been one of the forces that’s driven him to succeed with the 49ers. He was selected by San Francisco in the second round, after five other quarterbacks, and always wants to show that was a mistake.
“Every time I step on the field, I try to prove that I should have been drafted before those people,” he said.
Kaepernick said he doesn’t second-guess himself about his final pass against Seattle, a throw that was just a bit short of Michael Crabtree and batted away by Seattle cornerback Sherman to a teammate for an interception. He still believes it was the right play and he’d trust Crabtree to make that catch anytime he could deliver the ball to him, no matter who was covering him, including Sherman. He had his teammate's back, saying Sherman's post-game rant was "ridiculous," and that Crabtree is one of the best receivers in the league.
“I’m going to play to win,” Kapernick said. “I’m going to try and make those plays. If you have that last pass 10 times, I’m going to make it 10 times over again. Now, do I wish I would have thrown a better ball? If it’s a foot farther, we’re playing this weekend and not Seattle. "To me, it’s not a bad decision by me. It’s something physically I have to get better at. I have to make a better throw in that position.”
Kaepernick – who’s also in line for a big-money contract extension – also said he doesn’t want his next contract to have an adverse impact on his team, and would like to sign a deal that doesn’t put the 49ers in a bad position to keep or acquire the talent they need.
“You want to be paid fairly for what you feel like you’re doing in comparison to your peers,” he said. “But at the same time you have to realize, if we want to get Anquan Boldin back, if we want to get Donte Whitner to come back, we’re going to have to make moves to get them back. And there has to be room for everyone.
“That’s something I’m going to let my agent and the organization try and figure out. But hopefully, it’s a position where we can assemble the best team we need.”
Everything Kaepernick said backed up Harbaugh, who has said Kaepernick is looked up to by all of his teammates.
Kaepernick sounded eager to get back to work. He’ll work out in Florida soon with Frank Gore and Boldin and young receiver Quinton Patton. Last offseason, he spent time in Georgia working to get better, before returning to the Bay Area for regular work.
Harbaugh, for one, expects nothing but great things in the future from his young quarterback.
“Colin was fantastic in this game,” Harbaugh said after the NFC Championship Game loss. “He was fantastic the entire season. From the beginning right to the end, I though he played extremely well.”
For Kaepernick, though, it wasn’t quite good enough. And that’s what will provide him some extra motivation going into 2014.