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Harbaugh Likes Kaepernick’s Progress

Posted Jan 7, 2013

Two of the most successful teams in NFL postseason history will meet Saturday night at Candlestick Park, and for one of them, the starting quarterback will be making his playoff debut.

When the NFC West-champion San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1) host the NFC North-champion Green Bay Packers (11-5) for a coveted spot in the Conference Championship, Colin Kaepernick will be making his first postseason start for the 49ers.

The young quarterback will get the ball in a matchup of two of the top teams in the league’s proud history: San Francisco has 26 playoff victories, fourth-most in NFL history. Meanwhile, Green Bay has 30 postseason wins, third-best in the league.

Saturday’s Divisional Playoff matchup, the sixth all-time postseason meeting between the teams with a combined seven Super Bowl trophies, is even more intriguing considering Kaepernick will make his playoff debut against one of his beloved childhood teams.

Kaepernick, San Francisco’s second-year quarterback, once wrote about his goal of playing in the NFL and did so by singling out both of the teams set to square-off Saturday night.

“I’m 5-foot-2, 91-pounds. Good athlete,” wrote Kaepernick as a fourth-grade student at Dutcher Elementary School in Turlock, Calif. “I think in 7 years I will be between 6-foot to 6-foot-4, 140 pounds. I hope I go to a good college in football, then go to the pros and play on the Niners or the Packers even if they aren’t good in seven years.”

Fast forward to 2013, Kaepernick stands at the 6-4 height he predicted, but is slightly larger at 230 pounds. Even more clairvoyant, Kaepernick plays for the 49ers and will face the Packers.

It’s certainly a challenging scenario for a young quarterback’s first postseason start, but Jim Harbaugh believes Kaepernick is prepared for the challenge.

“Just being in the situations he’s been in,” Harbaugh explained, “the way he’s handled himself in those situations, at this point we can say just about everything, you know, that a quarterback could face. He’s done well.”

Kaepernick went 5-2 in seven regular season starts, completing 136 of 218 attempts for 1,814 yards and 10 touchdowns to go along with 415 rushing yards and five rushing scores.

Harbaugh believes his quarterback is even better prepared to face the challenge of Green Bay’s opportunistic defense because of his early preparations this week at 49ers headquarters.

“I think it’ll be a big challenge and one that Colin is very excited about, said Harbaugh, who joined former 49ers coach George Seifert as the only coaches in franchise history to win the NFC West in each of their first two seasons.

“He’s so far, now it’s early, but expectations will be high that he will be on it as well,” the 49ers coach continued. “He’s got a good grasp of the game plan so far. I’m excited that he’s… it’s a bit savant-like, you know, the way he’s handling it so far this week. So that’s really encouraging.”

Harbaugh was quickly asked to follow up on the savant-like comment pertaining to his young quarterback.

“Just that it’s so early in the preparation and so early in explaining the game plan, but just his understanding of it this early in the week,” the 49ers coach replied. “The way he’s understanding it is savant-like, yeah.”

Kaepernick’s leadership has also stood out to veterans on the offense like Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley.

“He’s showing what he’s shown the team the entire time he’s been here,” Staley began, “he’s capable and ready. I’m excited for him for his first playoff game and I’m excited for him to do the things he’s done all season which is make plays and help us win games.”

Alex Smith started in San Francisco’s season-opening win over the Packers. Kaepernick, however, did enter the game late in the second quarter and rushed for a 17-yard gain to help set up David Akers’ NFL-record tying 63-yard field goal.

Since then, players like Staley see the all-around growth in their young quarterback.

“As you go forward and get more games under your belt, you pick up things,” Staley reasoned. “It’s hard to replicate games in practice and the preparation during the week when you’re not starting.”

Kaepernick might be making his first postseason start, but playoff experience is rampant throughout the 49ers roster.

“There’s definitely more of our players that have been through the playoffs and can personally share with the first- or second-year players who haven’t been through the playoffs, what that experience was like for them, they can personalize it from conversation to conversation,” Harbaugh detailed. “I hope and think that our young guys are taking advantage of that.”

Staley believes that’s exactly what took place during the team’s playoff bye week.

“We know what to expect going forward now,” the left tackle explained. “I think last year, a lot of the players on the team had to draw from veterans on what to expect. But we all have playoff experience on this team, besides the rookies and other first-year players, but we know what kind of atmosphere it’s going to be. It’s going to be a physical game and we’re going to get their best from them.”

Staley also wants the best out of the 49ers Faithful.

“The opportunity to play a home playoff game is special,” he said. “We need our fans to come out and give us the home-field advantage we need.”

Even with the home crowd’s support, Harbaugh feels that he has a completely different team in his second postseason run. It’s a team he feels confident about making a Super Bowl run.

“Feel like now is new team, a team that I feel very good going into the playoffs with and understands the challenge and the task that’s up against us this time around,” Harbaugh detailed.

San Francisco’s first postseason challenge starts with Green Bay. The matchup should be very similar in Harbaugh’s eyes.

“Individually, I think there still are quite a few matchups, most of the matchups that were the same from when we played them the first time around,” the 49ers coach said.

Quarterback might stand as the biggest change for the 49ers since they last faced the Packers, but it’s also a change that’ll require careful thought from Green Bay’s defensive unit.

“We were on it that day, mentally, physically prepared to play the football game,” Harbaugh said of San Francisco’s 30-22 road win over Green Bay back in Week 1.

“This will be a totally different game.”

Furthermore, the 49ers might have a different kicker. Though Akers connected on a 63-yard kick in Green Bay to start the season, he’s been competing all week with recently-signed Billy Cundiff for the right to kick in the postseason.

Harbaugh said there was no final decision made over the weekend, but did say there’s been separation between the two.

“We have a leader in the clubhouse and we’ll see how it goes today and tomorrow,” Harbaugh said.

The 49ers coach added that there was a “good chance” both kickers could be on Saturday’s gameday roster.

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