After two of the roughest outings of his career, with legions of angry 49ers fans calling for his replacement and critics from coast to coast chiming in on what’s wrong with him, Colin Kaepernick finds himself playing on national television Sunday in the media capital of the world.
“It puts a lot of pressure on these games, right?” offensive coordinator Geep Chryst conceded Thursday. “It puts a lot of pressure on a Sunday night game.”
Chryst, however, has reminded Kaepernick that he usually sparkles under a national spotlight, doing so from his first NFL start in 2012, which came on a Monday night, to his Week 1 victory this season, which also was on a Monday.
“Not perfect,” Chryst said of Kaepernick’s overall primetime outings, “but on the Monday night, I think his record’s 5-0, including his first start against the Bears. He played well at the Patriots. There’s other games – the following week we went to Seattle, it wasn’t so good. But you’re playing this out in front of everybody, literally in front of everybody.”
Pointing out Kaepernick’s national TV success is part of an effort to boost the quarterback’s psyche after it was flattened against the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers. A more practical tack: crafting a game plan that gets the quarterback into an early rhythm.
Chryst first said the 49ers planned “major changes” against the New York Giants before backing off a bit.
“I shouldn’t say major,” he said. “We made some changes, some adjustments that we feel good about going into this game. But it would be disingenuous for me to elaborate on it and then you go up to the game and it’s a clunker.”
After he started the season solidly, Kaepernick’s last two games have sunk his passer rating to a career-low 67.7. Only the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck and the Houston Texans’ Ryan Mallett have worse numbers. Chryst, who loves to use baseball analogies to explain football, likened Kaepernick’s last two outings to a pitcher getting shelled or a batter in a slump.
Tom House knows quite a bit about a pitcher’s pressure. He was a major-league reliever in the 1970s and now works with perhaps the most angst-ridden players in team sports: pitchers and quarterbacks. Of the latter, House’s clients have included the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees, the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Alex Smith, Kaepernick’s former teammate.
House, 68, is perhaps best known for his expertise in the mechanics of throwing, but he also looks closely at a client’s nutrition, sleep patterns and mental and emotional states.
House never has worked with Kaepernick and made it clear he was speaking in general terms. But he said quarterbacks tend to care too much and want to do too much and consequently, they often are weighed down.
“The guys that seem to thrive are the ones that learn how to manage that process,” House said. “They never get too high; they never get too low. They never let the previous pitch or the previous pass get in the way of this pitch or this pass. They manage the moment. With athletes that are bright and that care a lot – which is the profile for quarterbacks – they’re the ones that, unless they learn how to manage the process, they can overload, they can bind up, they can have all those performance anxieties that are created by the kid that thinks and cares too much.”
Kaepernick’s demeanor and his quotes after the 49ers’ Week 3 loss to the Cardinals suggested the full weight of the blowout was hanging around his neck.
“I nullified all the efforts of every player on that field today,” he said.
After being too careless with the ball against Arizona, Kaepernick was perhaps too careful against Green Bay. Throws to the sideline sailed out of bounds, and passes in traffic were in the dirt.
House said his generic advice to addled throwers is to simplify – only worry about those things that are in your immediate control and try to shield yourself from outside chatter.
He realizes that last bit of advice is difficult to heed in an era when anyone with a cellphone, a Twitter account and a negative thought can get a message to an athlete.
“My generation, the most you had to put up with were three or four writers in the newspaper,” House said. “And there was never more than 10,000 people in the stands. So you performed basically in anonymity. Now there’s no place to hide.”