Colin Kaepernick on Friday is expected to make his first public comments since being benched. But his offensive coordinator gave a notable defense of the 49ers’ onetime starting quarterback on Thursday.
Geep Chryst was asked why Kaepernick, perhaps the hottest young passer in the NFL when he went to the Super Bowl just 33 months ago, suddenly will be wearing a ball cap and holding a clipboard on the sideline. The essence of his response: The elements around Kaepernick simply aren’t as good.
“We know that the 2012 team that he stepped into the huddle with had a lot of really nice characteristics,” said Chryst, who was the quarterbacks coach of the 2012 team. “ ... In 2015 here, we know that in the NFL the roster will churn – what? – 30 percent every year, it seems like. Well, here we are a couple of years down the road. We still have some core elements of that 2012 team, but there’s a lot of pieces that are new.”
The 49ers’ offensive line, for instance, had talent and cohesion. Four of the five linemen who protected Kaepernick in 2012 played all 37 games together in 2011 and 2012. This year, four of the five members are either new to the team or playing different spots than they were at the start of last year.
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At the midpoint of the season, the 49ers have allowed 28 sacks, tied for third-most in the league. Their run-blocking is rated last by Pro Football Focus. The scouting service says 49ers running backs are averaging just .97 yards before contact by a defender. In 2012, when the offensive line was rated the best in the league, that average was 2.02 yards.
“I don’t think whether you called a run or a pass, if you’re getting penetration up the middle it really matters, because we’re getting whipped at the point of attack,” Chryst said. “ ... If you’re blown up and you’re backed up in the interior (of the offensive line), it’s not going to turn out all right. It just won’t.”
Kaepernick started seven games in the 2012 regular season and had a 98.3 passer rating, 10 touchdown passes and three interceptions. In the postseason, he was even better, posting a 100.9 rating with four touchdowns and two interceptions as well as three rushing touchdowns.
Chryst said Week 1 of the current season offered a template for how he thought the offense could operate. The win over the Minnesota Vikings included 230 rushing yards. Kaepernick was sacked once, and the offense committed no turnovers.
“And then, one by one, some of those elements – take Carlos Hyde, for example, which was a critical element – they’re no longer out there,” Chryst said.
Hyde, the 49ers’ top running back, sat out last Sunday’s loss to the St. Louis Rams because of a stress fracture in his foot. The team’s leading receiver, Anquan Boldin, also missed the game, which ended with serious injuries to backup runners Reggie Bush and Mike Davis.
Still, the 49ers had been one of the healthiest teams in the league until that point, and the offense carried no momentum beyond Week 1. San Francisco had the top-ranked rushing offense after that game. Today, the 49ers rank 18th in rushing offense, 31st in passing offense, last in total offense and last in scoring offense.
Kaepernick ranks 28th with a 78.8 passer rating and now will give way to Blaine Gabbert.
Chryst, who along with head coach Jim Tomsula on Monday informed Kaepernick he was being benched, was asked how much responsibility he has in how things have played out.
“You feel like you bear it every call that you make,” he said. “You feel that you bear it every practice that you do. And, you know, you try to get under the hood and say, ‘OK. What is it that we’re failing on?’ And at the same time, as a coach, you know the hand that you’re dealt.”