SANTA CLARA – For the first part of their NFL careers, Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick were often compared.
They roomed together at the NFL scouting combine in 2011. One was chosen No. 1 overall, while the other was selected 35 spots later. And both were considered part of the new-age, dual-threat quarterback movement.
Newton has continued to grow and blossom, winning the league MVP last season. And after his team won four playoff games in his first two seasons, Kaepernick's production tailed off and he's now the 49ers' backup quarterback to open the season.
The 49ers would appear to have just about the perfect player to mimic Newton in practices to get the team's defense prepared for its stiff challenge on Sunday when the 49ers travel cross-country to face the Carolina Panthers.
Instead, it was Christian Ponder, the 49ers' No. 3 quarterback, who played the role of Newton during Wednesday's practice.
"I'm Cam Newton," Ponder said. "The biggest thing was trying to get the cadence down."
He said he went on YouTube on Wednesday morning to try to find highlights with audio of Newton barking out the signals at the line of scrimmage. Ponder is paying attention to the small details in his character-actor role this week.
"He'll say, ‘Blue eighteeeeee,'" Ponder said. "He carries it out. So I tried to get that down right away."
For at least through the first day of training to face the Panthers, Kaepernick concentrated on the 49ers' offensive game plan. Kaepernick is the 49ers' No. 2 quarterback behind starter Blaine Gabbert. Ponder is not expected to suit up for Sunday's game.
"I think they want Kap to focus on getting reps on offense, and so they let me run that show," Ponder said. "Hopefully, I'm doing a good job. We'll see.
"I don't get a lot of reps with the offense, so these are my reps. I try to tie in what they're doing on the card with what we're doing on offense. They give me a lot of freedom. Sometimes, you get coaches who tell you, ‘This is the circle, this is where you're throwing it.' But they tell me a lot of times I can read it out, which helps me get my reps."
Newton, who rushed for more than 3,200 yards in his first five seasons, is much more of a running threat than Ponder, who gained 253 yards on the ground while starting every game for the Minnesota Vikings in 2012.
"I ran a similar offense with coach (Norv) Turner in Minnesota, but not to the extent that Can does," Ponder said. "Obviously, they do a lot of quarterback runs with Cam."
However, outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks said he does not see a running quarterback. When he watches Newton on film, he said he sees a quarterback who stands 6 foot 5, 245 pounds and is not looking to take off from the pocket.
"I've noticed he's not as mobile as I thought he'd be – for him being a black quarterback," Brooks quipped. "You know what I'm saying. He likes to pass the ball. He doesn't look to run. He looks to get the yards. I'm not saying he can't run. I'm not saying he can't make guys miss. But he looks to pass the ball.
"So when you're rushing him, you know you have to get to him before he passes the ball rather than you worrying about him scrambling. Like Russell Wilson, you got to worry about him scrambling a little bit."
Said safety Eric Reid, "He'll break contain at least once in the game. And when he does, we just got to get him on the ground. It takes more than one person. . . Wrapping and rolling. Hold onto his legs until the next guy gets there."
Newton rushed for 54 yards and took some big hits from the Denver Broncos last Thursday in an opening-week rematch of Super Bowl 50, which the Broncos also won.
"He's a threat with his legs and he's a threat with the ball, a very powerful arm, too," 49ers cornerback Jimmie Ward said. "One thing we have to do, we got to go out and stop Cam. We got to give him respect. He was the MVP."
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On Thursday morning, coach Chip Kelly explained how the 49ers use their quarterbacks during practices:
"Depends on kind of some of the things we're doing. But, right now it's been that because (quarterbacks coach Ryan Day) has taken the two quarterbacks and is doing some individual drills with those guys at that time," he said.
"Right now, I think Kap's getting, I think we get 12 reps in a period. I think Blaine is getting nine and Kap is getting three, so kind of a distribution from that standpoint. Christian has really spent a lot of time in the last two weeks being (Los Angeles quarterback) Case Keenum and then being Cam because it's kind of unique. So Christian's spent a lot of time watching the other team's film so he can really simulate kind of what they're doing. Then when the defense is up, Kap and Blaine are with coach Day. As we get going that may change, but that's just kind of what the plan was this week."
When asked if Kaepernick could have a role on the scout team running Carolina plays that are similar to what the 49ers have in their playbook, Kelly answered, "Yeah, there are. But this is more of a quarterback counter, quarterback power operation, a lot of guys in the box. I don't see a lot of similarities between what we do offensively and what Carolina does offensively."