There’s no better word to describe the emotions running through second-year quarterback
After leading the San Francisco 49ers to back-to-back wins over Chicago and New Orleans, Jim Harbaugh has elected to go with Kaepernick as the team’s starting quarterback this Sunday in St. Louis.
“It's our plan to start Colin,” the 49ers coach told a crowd of nearly 50 media members gathered at 49ers headquarters on Wednesday. “We're preparing him to make that start this week against the Rams.”
“Both deserve it,” Harbaugh said. “Alex over a long period of time, Colin by virtue of the last two games. What tips the scales is Colin we believe has the hot hand, and we'll go with Colin… And we'll go with Alex. Both are our guys.”
Excitement means much more when you realize the Turlock, Calif., native once wrote as a fourth-grader that he hoped to someday play in the NFL for the 49ers.
Unfazed by the media spotlight, 10 or so cameras all pointed in his face inside of the 49ers locker room, Kaepernick was most pleased to be doing what he loves most: Working.
Asked if he was surprised by Harbaugh’s changing of the guard, Kaepernick simply replied, “I’m just happy to be back out on the field.”
Harbaugh didn’t need to consult with veterans in the locker room to make the switch. Instead, he trusted his own eyes and the opinions of his coaching staff.
“This is one of those decisions you make as the head coach,” he said.
Harbaugh added that speculating on future quarterback decisions is a moot point at this juncture of the process.
“(Not) going to start talking about speculation or every permutation that you could get into,” Harbaugh said. “We're not going to speculate on it. We'll worry about everything and fear nothing.”
In his third career start, Kaepernick will face Rams team he faced on Nov. 11, the same day Smith suffered a concussion and was sidelined for two-plus games. Kaepernick fared well against St. Louis, but ultimately settled for a 24-24 tie, the team’s first tied game since 1986.
In that game, Kaepernick filled in for the injured Smith to complete 11 of 17 passes for 117 yards and one rushing touchdown. Kaepernick followed the performance with three passing touchdowns and one more rushing score in back-to-back wins over the Bears and Saints. For the season, Kaepernick has a 102.3 quarterback rating with three touchdown passes and four rushing touchdowns.
Facing an opponent the second time around might make things easier for the athletic quarterback, but Kaepernick’s teammates expect him to be ready for the stage, regardless of opposition.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, he’ll be on it,” right guard
The 49ers players discovered their coach’s final decision after a team walk-through earlier Wednesday morning. Harbaugh informed reporters and the world of his choice as national media trucks carried the press conference to multiple networks.
Inside the locker room, the largest media gathering since the team’s 2011 NFC title game appearance was out to find the players’ take on the team’s quarterback decision.
Many of the players didn’t make much of the hot topic, but did understand the reasoning for the attention.
“The media is doing their job,” said fourth-year defensive tackle
Jean Francois, a backup defensive lineman who’s been able to earn more playing time with his solid play this season, appreciated Kaepernick’s hard work to earn the starting quarterback role.
In his mind, Kaepernick earned the spot by making it hard on the 49ers coaching staff to sideline him in the remaining five weeks of the season.
“Even starting from little league, high school to college, you’re supposed to make it hard on your coach,” Jean Francois. “Not in a bad way, but make it hard on your coach so they have to think more about the decision to keep you in the game. That’s how it should go.”
That’s how it went for the 49ers.
Smith did nothing to lose his job, a statement stressed by Harbaugh repeatedly.
It was more about the flashes shown by Kaepernick, an athletic quarterback who can run a variety of Greg Roman’s offensive play calls, including zone-read plays that are difficult to defend.
Harbaugh has seen steady improvement from his young quarterback, both in practice and in games. The coach explained the biggest strides were made in practice.
“You don't get to Carnegie Hall without practicing,” he said.
Carnegie Hall or the Edward Jones Dome, site of Sunday’s game against St. Louis.
So while Kaepernick has continued his development to the point of earning a starting role on the team, it’s hard not to overlook the contributions Smith made to the first-place team. The former No. 1 overall draft pick led the team to a 6-2 start, leading the NFL in completion percentage in the process.
It’s not a foregone conclusion that Smith won’t play again this season.
“I wouldn't assume anything,” Harbaugh said. “I know you probably will, but I'd assume nothing.”
Kaepernick wasn’t informed if the change was permanent, but did compliment Smith’s mentoring since the 2011 season.
“Alex has been great, our relationship hasn’t changed,” Kaepernick said. “He’s helped me a lot. He helped me a lot last year going through our playbook, how we’re going to read different things, different progressions. He’s been a great help getting me to where I am now.”
Veterans respect both players and will continue to work hard regardless of who’s under center.
“Let's go play some ball,” said the team’s leading wideout
The franchise’s all-time leading rusher
“I just feel like we have two good quarterbacks who can help us win,” said Gore, who was drafted with Smith in 2005. “That's a plus for this team.”
Gore knows Kaepernick brings an athletic dimension to the offense, but also knows Smith is a talented leader in his own right.
“Alex has been through a lot of tough things,” Gore said. “I think he'll be fine. I know the guy loves the games. Alex loves to play football. That's tough. But coach made the decision and we know that's what we got to go with.
“We’ve got two quarterbacks, and looking around the league a lot of teams can't say that. Alex won a lot of games. Kap has won the last two games –went down to New Orleans and won in a tough environment. You’re just going to be behind whoever coach says is the starting quarterback.”
Come Sunday that player will be Kaepernick now that the mystery is gone.
For his part, the young quarterback will do his best to make sure the team’s consistent performance is maintained in a Week 13 road game.
“It’s a great chance to lead this team and show we’re a great team and that we can go into the playoffs and win games,” he said.