SANTA CLARA – Colin Kaepernick is a wanted man.
NFL coaches are going back to school to figure out ways to stop fleet-footed quarterbacks like him. They're peppering pro prospects with questions about how to thwart the spread offenses that vexed them in 2012. And they're planning to draft speedy tacklers and edge defenders who can keep pace.
Naturally, Kaepernick wants to stay a step – perhaps even two – ahead of the defenses.
His seven weeks of training outside Atlanta this offseason included two weeks on the track with sprinters Monica Hargrove and Avard Moncur and long jumper Dwight Phillips. The goal: teach the rising 49ers star the proper technique and mechanics and make a quarterback who in 2012 averaged a gaudy 6.6 yards a carry and ran for five touchdowns in the regular season even more dangerous in 2013.
"Anything you can do to get faster, any tips you can take – you want to do it," Kaepernick said.
Kaepernick played baseball, basketball and football in high school in Turlock, but he never ran track. Still, the track stars in Atlanta were impressed with what they saw, especially how hard Kaepernick was willing to work in the NFL offseason. At one point, he ran nine consecutive 150-meter sprints in 18 seconds or less, a surprise to the sprinters on hand.
"I joked to him, 'You must be a good athlete because you pick things up very well,' " said Paul Doyle, who manages the athletes at Doyle Sports Performance Center in Hiram, Ga. "He absolutely can get faster. He can improve. But we're starting from a very solid place with him."
Quarterbacks who can run the read-option attack once were an NFL novelty. Last year, they officially became a trend.
Kaepernick, Seattle's Russell Wilson, Carolina's Cam Newton and Washington's Robert Griffin III averaged more than five yards a carry, and Griffin led all rushers, running backs included, by averaging 6.8 yards.
In the playoffs, Kaepernick torched Green Bay for 181 yards, an NFL rushing record for a quarterback, and two touchdowns. Packers coach Mike McCarthy then dispatched his defensive staff to Texas A&M to study the read-option that Kaepernick used against them. The Packers visit the 49ers in the season opener Sept. 8.
A week after the Packers game in January, Atlanta held Kaepernick to 21 rushing yards. But the Falcons paid so much attention to him on outside runs that Frank Gore gouged them for 90 yards and two touchdowns up the middle. Like the Packers, the Falcons headed back to college – Clemson – for tutorials on countering read-option attacks.
"I know that our coaching staff is going to spend a whole lot of time on it because it could be the wave of the future," Falcons coach Mike Smith told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I'm not saying that it will be, but that it could be."
The Falcons visit the 49ers on Dec. 23.
NFL teams also are interested in drafting defensive players who are well-versed in stopping mobile quarterbacks in college.
Oregon linebacker Kiko Alonso faced such an offense every day in practice, and he reported that NFL teams were eager to pick his brain during recent pre-draft interviews.
His advice: Defensive players must be disciplined in their assignments, and they must be fast enough to keep pace.
"Everyone's got to run to the ball," said Alonso, who participated in the 49ers' pro day Wednesday. "That was a big thing they coached at Oregon – running to the ball all day. I think that's what helped us out. Because we fared pretty well against spread teams and against our (Oregon's) spread team, which is probably one of the best spread teams in the country."
Will defenses be able to catch up with Kaepernick in 2013? That might depend on whether the 49ers' quarterback figured out a way to get even faster.
"We'll find out when we get on the field," Kaepernick said.