A buoyant and talkative Colin Kaepernick addressed the media for the first time in six months Thursday, saying he is excited about new coach Chip Kelly and his 49ers offense but swatting away questions about his trade request in the offseason.
“I really don’t want to get into the specifics of what happened, why things happened,” Kaepernick said. “At this point, everything is football. I’m a 49er.”
Several times during the 18-minute session – a record for the normally taciturn Kaepernick – he said he was eager to play in Kelly’s fast-paced offensive system. He and Kelly spoke and texted throughout the offseason, and Kelly always has said Kaepernick would be back with the team.
But when asked, Kaepernick said he hasn’t spoken with general manager Trent Baalke. His beef with the 49ers always has been with the front office, not the coaching staff. He felt the 49ers reneged on an agreement to use the savings from the contract he signed in 2014 on the team’s free agents, and he was unhappy with leaks concerning him and his standing in the locker room before his benching last season.
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Kaepernick’s agents sought and were granted permission to explore a trade in February, and the agents and the 49ers negotiated with the Broncos over the next month. Denver wanted Kaepernick to take a significant pay cut, and the trade fell through.
Kaepernick instead reported April 4 for the 49ers’ offseason program and has attended every session. He’s been recovering from three surgeries – to his left shoulder, left knee and right thumb – but said he will be fully cleared by training camp, at which point he will have a chance to win the starting role he lost last season to Blaine Gabbert.
The pecking order during the 49ers’ recent minicamp, in which Kaepernick partially participated, has been Gabbert, Kaepernick, Thad Lewis and rookie Jeff Driskel.
“All I’ve heard is that Chip has told me it’s going to be a competition … and to come in and be ready to compete,” Kaepernick said. “That’s my mindset, and I’m excited to do that.”
Kaepernick acknowledged his tumultuous year prompted him to change his ways.
He typically has answered questions from reporters in as few words as possible and has looked miserable during those sessions. On Thursday, he was friendly and chatty. When a public relations staffer began to end the interview after 10 minutes, Kaepernick said he was willing to answer more questions, which he did for another eight minutes.
He said he won’t alter his aggressive style as far as running with the football, but he conceded that perhaps his weight room routine left him too tight in his upper body and said he will work on being more limber.
He said the months in rehabilitation allowed him to focus on his relationships.
“Definitely not the same person,” he said. “What I try to do is grow. That’s just not on the football field, that’s in life; that’s in my relationships and everything.”
Kaepernick lost a significant amount of bulk because the injuries and subsequent surgeries kept him out of the weight room, where he is a regular and among the hardest workers on the team.
The shoulder injury, a tear to his left labrum, occurred Oct. 4, and Kaepernick said he didn’t realize the extent of it until it was examined nearly two months later. He stopped short, however, of blaming his ugly 2015 season, in which threw six touchdown passes and five interceptions, on physical limitations.
“To be perfectly blunt with you, I didn’t play my best football last year,” he said. “Injury, no injury – I wasn’t playing my best football. That’s something I’m excited about this year, being able to redeem myself, play well and prove to everybody what I’m capable of.”
He said he needs to put on “quite a bit” of weight and plans to dedicate the next month and a half to that goal.
“It took a while for me to be able to get back in the weight room and start lifting and put some of that muscle back on,” he said. “Which is why I’m excited about this summer. The point I’m at right now, I can really start doing those things and get prepared for the season.”
He said his eventful offseason has not created tension since he returned to the team. Instead, he said he was excited, a word he used 22 times Thursday.
“I don’t think it’s been an odd and awkward situation,” Kaepernick said. “That was a business aspect of football. At this point, I’m here. I’m excited to be with Chip and these coaches. The offense has been amazing, and my teammates have been great with their support. I’m excited to be on the field with them.”