The 49ers opened their offseason program with a new attitude and, according to one offensive player, a new quarterback.
“When I saw him yesterday, I didn’t know it was Colin,” tight end Vernon Davis said of Colin Kaepernick. “No, seriously. He was working on his drop-back, and I was, ‘Who is that?’ You guys are in for a treat. He looks like a totally different guy.”
Kaepernick spent the past three months at EXOS training facility in Phoenix working on how to become a better pocket passer, among other things. That involved adjustments to his technique and also plenty of classroom work on reading defenses and diagnosing plays.
Kaepernick said he and his instructors, including former NFL MVP Kurt Warner, would spend one day a week doing “board work” – Xs and Os type of instruction – but that those lessons were discussed and applied on the field as well.
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“It was constant mental work,” he said. “We weren’t just out there throwing to throw.”
In Phoenix, Kaepernick worked alongside draft-worthy wide receivers such as West Virginia’s Kevin White and Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong, as well as teammates like Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton and newcomer Jarryd Hayne, who is transitioning from Australian Rugby League to the NFL.
“I feel like there’s been quite a bit of change,” Kaepernick said. “Obviously, it’s noticeable. Vernon said something to me right away when we started throwing. I just want to do everything I can to make sure I’m getting better and doing my part to help this team win. ... To me, you have to be able to change and adapt to be the best player you can be.”
Kaepernick and the 49ers offense failed to improve in 2014. His passer rating fell from 91.6 the year before to 86.4 in 2014 as he threw for 19 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. San Francisco’s passing offense ranked 30th in yards gained last season.
This year, the team wants to incorporate more play-action and deep passing. To that end, they signed receiver Torrey Smith – known for his speed – to a five-year deal in free agency.
“We brought him here for a reason,” Kaepernick said. “We want to utilize him and his talent.”
Coach Jim Tomsula, seated next to Kaepernick during a 23-minute media session, was quick to point out the 49ers did not send their quarterback to Phoenix because they felt there was something wrong with him.
“He took good and made it better,” Tomsula said. “... We didn’t go out to fix something that was broke in Colin Kaepernick.”
Kapernick, Davis, Tomsula and safety Antoine Bethea spoke to reporters. While declining to discuss last season, the three players cited a positive and energetic vibe at team headquarters to start the offseason program. That atmosphere was decidedly absent a year ago in what would be Jim Harbaugh’s final year in San Francisco.
Davis, in fact, missed the offseason program a year ago as he held out for a new contract. This year?
“The energy around here is fantastic,” Davis said. “Like coach said, guys don’t want to leave. Normally, I’d be out of here. But there’s great energy. Just working with the guys has been great.”
Et cetera – Smith may not be the only speedy receiver the 49ers add this offseason. DeVante Parker, Devin Smith and Sammie Coates are among the college receivers who will make formal, pre-draft visits to the team next week.
▪ Kaepernick is one of the few who have seen Hayne in action. His impression: “Phenomenal athlete. Just a natural. Since the day I met him, since every workout he’s been at, he’s going to give you everything he has. And it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be much of a learning curve for him.”
▪ Tomsula reiterated that he would not pressure veteran defensive lineman Justin Smith, who hasn’t said whether he will return for a 15th season, into a decision.
“When he knows, he’ll tell you,” Tomsula said. “It’ll be a one-word answer and it will be done. He’s here or he’s not, but that answer will be clear and concise. That’s the way he is.”
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.