Brent Jones spoke on KNBR this afternoon. Here’s what he said about the 49ers quarterback controversy.
Q: Based on what you saw last night, what direction do you the 49ers ought to go at quarterback?
BRENT JONES: “I watched Colin Kaepernick all preseason, and it didn’t seem like he had taken it to the next level from last year. It wasn’t a demonstrative, ‘Yeah, I’m competing for the starting quarterback position.’ I had only seen him in the Wild Cat formations the few times Jim would bring him in.
“That being said, I was really impressed with him in the Rams game after the first four or five snaps. It looked like all of a sudden he was starting to take control. He grew from that experience last week, having a week of practice under his belt he grew exponentially.
“When he walked on the field last night, he looked like he was the starting quarterback. I look at body language. First play of the game, he was so smooth. It was a great play action fake, Heck of a pass and he just kept going from there.
“What you have is a young kid who’s very raw, yet talented. A kid who’s an athlete, who creates problems for defenses because of his running ability, his size, his strength, his mobility in the pocket. He made a few plays last night that, quite honestly, Alex would not have made – scrambling in the pocket, moving around and then pulling the trigger on a couple of big passes, one for a touchdown, and it’s interesting because against the Rams he would have ran those balls. He would have scrambled. But I was really blown away with his awareness, his pocket presence, his command, his leadership.
“All those things being said, I wanted to hear what Jim would say in the postgame press conference, because no matter what I think or what any fan thinks, it’s really what Jim Harbaugh thinks. And Jim did not squash the quarterback controversy whatsoever. He could have said, ‘Alex Smith is out, he missed a game with a concussion and he is our starter going forward.’ Jim basically said he likes to play the hot hand, which leaves it open in a pretty significant way.
“I’m sure Alex didn’t want to hear that, but the reality is Jim knew what he was doing. Everything that he said last night – and calculated in his head, because he had plenty of time to think about it – he exactly what he was going to say would create a reaction in the locker room and outside the locker room. He’s not surprised by this. He’s leaving it open right now. So, there is a quarterback controversy, for the lack of a better word. I don’t know about ‘controversy.’ There is a competition. In Jim’s mind, it’s an open field.”
Q: Do you think Kaepernick has outperformed their expectations?
BRENT JONES: “Yes, and it’s one of those great problems to have. It was that significant: A big Monday night game the 49ers needed to have against one of the best defenses in the NFL, one of the top teams in the NFC, with your starting quarterback out. Jay Cutler didn’t play, but all the Bears defenders were playing. He made them look silly all night.
“The 49ers played offensively as well as I’ve seen them play all year in my opinion. Frank Gore had his classic 17 attempts. He had some good, tough running yards. He was up around 80 yards. Kendall Hunter ran hard, which is always great to see. And Kaepernick will always be able to make big plays with his feet, but he was so poised and so impressive in the pocket, and that’s the one thing. You knew he had a strong arm. You can document he has a stronger arm than Alex. He’s a big kid. He’s a strong kid. But he has mobility in the pocket, and his awareness of where the rush was coming, to side step, to spin, to get out of trouble and to still make a play, because one of the greatest times that you can make a big play is a quarterback scrambling and moving out of the pocket. The defense has to account for two things: They have to account for the quarterback running and then covering the wide receiver and tight end. It creates quite a conundrum for the defense. If you have that, it is a powerful asset, and I think the 49ers probably sat back and said: ‘Holy cow.’ This is what we saw from this kid at Nevada Reno that we haven’t seen in this full context yet.
“But if they have that, if Colin Kaepernick plays like that for the rest of the season, the 49ers aren’t going to lose. He creates so much of a problem. His accuracy was great. He made a couple of tough throws that you have to have a strong arm to make. His touch was great. It’s hard to get that much out of a young quarterback this early in his career.
“We tend to want to overreact. He’s still a young quarterback. He can still come back in a week or two weeks or three weeks and make young quarterback mistakes, but you saw his full potential exemplified last night. Now, what does that mean going forward? I don’t know, because I’m not in Jim’s mind and I’m not in the locker room, but Jim didn’t squash it. I don’t know whether he wants to inspire Alex to pick it up – I know he had a good game a few weeks ago with his completion percentage, but prior to that our offense was lagging and not looking so great. We had a couple of games where we were barely squeaking by. The reality is Colin Kaepernick creates massive problems for defenses trying to prepare for the 49ers.”
Q: I was surprised they came out passing.
BRENT JONES: “It was a gutsy plan, and I love that. It caught the Bears so off guard. The 49ers coaches absolutely outcoached the heck out of the Bears last night. It wasn’t even close. The Bears never saw it coming. They never adjusted. It was like a one round prize fight and they just took upper cut after upper cut until it was a knock down and a knock out. You could see constantly the play action sucking those linebackers up. The offense was operating on all cylinders. It felt like the Niners could dial up anything and make it successful. It’s just rare that you have a young quarterback who’s able to pull the trigger on so many variations of offensive plays.
“There’s a part of me that thinks Jim played the media perfectly this week. I thought Alex Smith was playing for sure. And I think the Bears may have fallen into that. I don’t know how much they prepared for Kaepernick, and if they did, they probably prepared for a disheveled second-year player scrambling a lot vs. making great play action fakes, standing tall in the pocket and making laser-type throws on the money all over the field.”
Q: Don’t you think the 49ers should stick with Alex Smith? He’s done well.
BRENT JONES: “I think what’s in the 49ers coaches’ heads right now, is does the upside of Colin Kaepernick outweigh his downside vs. Alex. Alex isn’t going to have the same degree of downside as Colin would in a pressure situation and having coverages disguised and what have you. That’s the situation they’re presented with and that could be a moving target. It hasn’t been handled on a weekly basis successfully ever. So Jim at some point over the next three or four weeks, or maybe before the playoffs, or maybe he tinkers with the position and makes a package for each – I have no idea what Jim is going to do. Just know that Jim has a plan. The reality is nobody else knows it, or maybe a couple of the coaches do.
“We’re in store for some excitement at this kind of lull point in the season. Of course it was a great game last night, but if there was an MVP, man, it was Colin Kaepernick. I never thought I’d be saying that, because our defense played phenomenally last night. It made the Bears look silly. Our rush defense was outstanding. Our coverage was everywhere. They couldn’t complete a pass that meant anything. It was a pretty darn significant night, but this young man took the Bay Area by storm last night, and if you’re Alex Smith, you’ve got to be thinking: ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. I have a concussion and I’m out for a week and this happens.’ But that’s why the 49ers drafted Colin Kaepernick.”
Q: The receivers seemed very pleased with Kaepernick after the game – Vernon Davis in particular.
BRENT JONES: “It’s funny how that happens. I’m sure Alex was thinking, ‘Where are my guys?’ I know Vernon’s been a big proponent and stayed strong for Alex for a couple of years now. But it just goes to show you what happens in the course of a season. Vernon hasn’t been involved the last three or four or five games. Maybe he feels like he’s getting open and he’s not getting the opportunity. And here comes Kaepernick, and he got it to a couple of play makers and all of a sudden they’re singing his praises. It’s interesting, because receivers can be a fickle crew, and your favorite quarterback is the one who throws it to you the most. Those guys had high praise for the young man last night, and rightfully so, and so did the coaching staff. That just fuels the fire of this alleged quarterback controversy.
“There are going to be people speaking up from both sides of the isle. We’ve outlined what both guys bring. It’s going to be interesting to watch if the 49ers say, ‘Our upside’s greater with Kaepernick, let’s let him role.’ One thing is for sure, I don’t think Jim’s going to decide it over this next week. He’s not going to say one guy’s definitively the starter. But I think over the next two, three, four weeks they’re probably going to both get a chance and maybe all of a sudden he draws the line in the sand and says, ‘We’re going with this guy and here’s why.’ At some point you’ve got to take the guessing out of the locker room. You’ve got to block a little bit differently for a guy who’s scrambling around back there.”