Coach Jim Tomsula on Monday reiterated that Colin Kaepernick will remain the 49ers’ starting quarterback and did his best to deflect some of the glare from the embattled fifth-year pro following Sunday’s 47-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
As an example, Tomsula pointed to a third-quarter play in which running back Carlos Hyde – taking a handoff from Kaepernick, who was in the shotgun formation – was tackled in San Francisco’s end zone for a safety. Tomsula said Kaepernick should have been under center, which would have increased the chances of Hyde getting beyond the goal line.
“I let us go in the Q-pistol on the 2-yard line,” he said. “That was my fault. I knew that play went in. Wish I had it back.”
Still, Kaepernick’s career-worst outing Sunday raised a question that has hounded him since he became a full-time starter: Can someone best known for gaining yards with his legs become an efficient passer in the NFL?
Last week, Kaepernick said he was in a better “comfort zone” this season, presumably because the 49ers are allowing him to run more zone-read plays and operate more from the so-called “pistol” formation he perfected at Nevada.
Tomsula said the offense is built to suit his players’ strengths. Kaepernick’s strength is his ability to beat defenses on the ground.
“He does have a unique skill set when it comes to the read (option) game,” Tomsula said. “And quite frankly, we want the defense to have to protect the read game.”
Against the Cardinals, however, Kaepernick’s perceived weaknesses – throwing touch passes and reading coverages – were an issue when he operated out of more traditional formations. He worked on those shortcomings during the offseason in Arizona, and through the first two games, it seemed he had made progress.
No one thinks that anymore, however, after Kaepernick threw four interceptions against the Cardinals, all on passes toward the sideline. His 16.7 passer rating was the lowest of his career, and even his biggest admirers were wagging their fingers at him on Monday.
“Had to shred my guy Colin Kap today!” former quarterback Ron Jaworski wrote on Twitter. “He was awful in his reads, throws, footwork and mechanics! He has the toolset, but doesn’t use them!”
Two years ago, Jaworski, an ESPN analyst, made waves when he said Kaepernick could be “one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.”
Before and after the game, members of the Cardinals’ secondary said Kaepernick and the “simplified” passing attack the 49ers were using this year were easy to figure out.
Tomsula said he disagreed with “simplified” to describe the offense his staff implemented in the offseason.
“Yes, there’s less volume, but there’s a lot of concepts,” he said. “It’s still a hefty amount of plays on the call sheet.
“We’re not a drop-back team; we’re not built that way. We’re not comparing ourselves to those teams. We’re not built to be first- and second-down empty (backfield) and spreading the ball out all over the place. We’re built more with our tight ends. We like the tight-end group. We like to use formations that get us some air when we need air. My perspective is playing to our strengths.”
That is, the offense incorporates read-option elements and more traditional concepts. So, how is Kaepernick at the drop-back part of the equation?
Tomsula paused before answering.
“Uh ... You know, I ... his development as a pocket passer.... in terms of Colin reading and looking at things and studying, I think he’s doing a nice job there working at it, OK?” he said. “In terms of us as a team and as a whole offense – our drop-back pass game, we need to be better at and we need to improve on. But that goes from the snap to the blocking to the routes that we’re running to throwing the football. So I think as a whole we need to work on that.”
On the injury front, Tomsula said tight end Vernon Davis, who was unable to finish Sunday’s game, has a knee strain “that doesn’t seem to be too bad.” Linebacker NaVorro Bowman twisted his surgically repaired left knee, and safety Eric Reid required stitches to his face after the game, but neither left the contest.