San Francisco 49ers

Kaepernick must step away from destructive impulses

“I’m not one to back down from a challenge, so I exchanged a few words,” Colin Kaepernick said of Sunday’s shouting match with Oakland’s Sio Moore.
“I’m not one to back down from a challenge, so I exchanged a few words,” Colin Kaepernick said of Sunday’s shouting match with Oakland’s Sio Moore. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

We’re still a year away from the latest installment in the “Star Wars” saga, but there’s a compelling drama playing out before us.

It’s called “Episode VII: Come Back from the Dark Side.”

It stars an intriguing central character from the land of Turlock who has become clouded by hate and frustration. Does he conquer those brooding impulses and become the hero? No one is certain at this point; we’re only midway through the flick.

But we seem to be at a crossroads. And on Wednesday there was reason for hope.

Our protagonist, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, is in the roughest stretch of his career. After throwing multiple interceptions in a game just twice in his first two seasons, he’s done that three times this year: against the Bears, against the Seahawks and last Sunday against the Raiders.

Many quarterbacks have a competitive repartee with defensive players. Brett Favre springs to mind. So do Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and the especially feisty Philip Rivers.

One of the recurring themes in Kaepernick’s multi-interception games, however, is that he appears to go overboard with that give-and-take.

Against the Raiders, hothead linebacker Sio Moore was caught on camera in the O.co Coliseum tunnel trying to bait 49ers players at halftime. About 10 49ers look up at him and continue to pass as he barks.

After all, who the heck is Sio Moore? He doesn’t matter.

Only Kaepernick stops and gets in a shouting match before being ushered away by teammates.

“I’m not one to back down from a challenge, so I exchanged a few words,” Kaepernick said of the episode on Wednesday.

The Raiders realized that if they could get under the opposing quarterback’s skin in the stadium tunnel, they might as well continue to pick away at him on the field. In the second half, they were on Kaepernick like a pack of hyenas, getting in his face and chirping in his ear after every failed play.

Did it have an effect? Kaepernick was 9 of 17 for 73 yards with an interception after halftime. He also was called for three delay-of-game penalties, the blame for which the normally supportive Jim Harbaugh appeared to assign to Kaepernick.

“We didn’t go through the mechanics of the huddle and the operation at the line of scrimmage fast enough,” Harbaugh said after the game.

Against the Bears, Kaepernick threw three interceptions. After one, he was penalized – and later fined – for inappropriate language in an exchange with Bears defenders eager to rub his face in his mistakes.

Against the Seahawks, he threw two interceptions, both of them into the hands of cornerback Richard Sherman, who famously made a “choke” gesture to Kaepernick following an interception in the NFC Championship Game last January.

Kaepernick wants to win as badly as any player in the 49ers’ locker room. His competitive fire is what caught Harbaugh’s attention in 2011 and is the trait – more than his powerful right arm or his incredible athleticism – that will propel him to become an elite quarterback, the NFL’s version of a Jedi Knight.

But to reach that status, that fire has to be applied the right way. There’s a sense that during his ongoing rut, Kaepernick’s desire to win has become a weight and that his intensity has clouded his judgment.

There were signs Wednesday that those clouds were parting.

Kaepernick, whose weekly media session last week was so curt it became fodder for national talk shows, was far more loose and engaging. He even smiled.

He spoke for more than nine minutes, touching on everything from Sherman – he said the Seahawk is one of the toughest cornerbacks he faces – to his sessions with the media. “I think there’s a different way to go about things,” he said.

Of course, a more relaxed Kaepernick on Wednesday doesn’t necessarily translate to a more effective quarterback on Sunday. Then again, his tightly wound performance a week ago turned out to be a harbinger of what was to come in Oakland.

Kaepernick also was asked if he puts too much pressure on himself.

“I have high expectations for everything I do,” he said. “And when I go out and compete, I expect to make every play. And when I don’t, it is frustrating. To me, it’s something where I have to use that frustration in a different way to make sure I’m productive when I’m out there.”

The realization that he needs to channel his frustration, his anger in a better manner is a positive step.

The force is strong with this quarterback. He must only use it in the right way.

Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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