When healthy and playing with confidence, Colin Kaepernick has been one of most dynamic quarterbacks in the NFL.
Over the 2012 and 2013 seasons for the 49ers, Kaepernick was 17-6 in the regular season and 4-2 in the postseason. His arm was strong and accurate (31 TD passes vs. 11 interceptions), his speed was Olympic-like and he appeared en route to stardom.
Now, after a pair of disappointing seasons, Kaepernick has been given medical clearance to participate fully in training camp and exhibition games for the first time since surgery on his shoulder in November and procedures on his left knee and right thumb.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee reported Monday that Kaepernick was cleared by Dr. Peter Millett, who performed the shoulder operation on Kaepernick in November.
The clearance means Kaepernick will be on equal footing with Blaine Gabbert as the first full-squad training camp practice approaches Sunday. Gabbert, who took over for Kaepernick as the team’s starting quarterback midway through the 2015 season, has been the No. 1 at the position throughout offseason workouts because of Kaepernick’s rehabilitation. Kaepernick, however, has been with the team and has learned Chip Kelly’s new offense and can now compete head-to-head with Gabbert beginning this weekend.
There’s no doubt Kaepernick remains one of the league’s most interesting QBs, simply because of his skills and early success with the Niners. This week, in fact, longtime NFL quarterback Michael Vick – who’s now a free agent – listed Kaepernick among the few QBs as fast or faster than he is (he also mentioned Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton).
But in order for Kaepernick to be a success in 2016, the 49ers will have to do a better job of protecting him – and he’ll have to evolve in terms of pocket presence and avoiding pressure if he wants to win the job from Gabbert. Kaepernick was sacked 52 times in 2014 and 28 times in nine games in 2015.
This week ESPN Stats & Information noted that Kaepernick experienced the third-highest rate of pressure among all NFL QBs when dropping back to pass in 2015 at 35.5 percent. The top four were the Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater (36.6), the Seahawks’ Wilson (36.4), Kaepernick and the Colts’ Andrew Luck (33.5).
If he wants to succeed -- and remain healthy -- that number will have to improve.