Here is my Friday column.
SANTA CLARA – Through two weeks of training camp, it’s clear Colin Kaepernick has changed three key aspects of his game. Here’s what’s good and not so good about each change so far.
CHANGE 1: Kaepernick is throwing with more touch.
THE GOOD: Kaepernick used to throw every pass the same way — as hard as he could. Short passes. Long passes. Intermediate passes. They all were four-seam fastballs, and they weren’t easy to catch. This offseason, Kaepernick went to EXOS training facility in Phoenix to learn, among other things, how to throw with touch.
He seems to have taken the training to heart. Kaepernick is obsessed with touch passes this summer.
Before every practice, he makes a ball boy stand in the back-right corner of the end zone, and makes another ball boy stand in front of him with his arms up. Then Kaepernick lofts pass after pass over the ball boy with the outstretched arms and into the hands of the ball boy standing in the corner of the end zone. Kaepernick does this about 50 times a day — a new addition to his routine. He almost always completes the pass.
He continues to throw with touch during the competitive portions of practice — 11-on-11 team drills — and his short touch passes, in particular, have been fantastic. He consistently throws accurate, catchable passes to running backs in the flat.
THE NOT SO GOOD: Kaepernick’s deep passes have been dreadful.
He wants to throw those with touch as well, so he’s practicing high arcing deep passes as opposed to the frozen ropes he threw the first four seasons of his career.
The frozen ropes were a pain to catch, but at least were semi-accurate. The “new and improved” deep passes can’t stay in the field of play.
On Aug. 8, Kaepernick’s attempted four deep passes in a row at the start of team drills. The first three deep passes landed out of bounds and the fourth one landed 10 yards in front of the intended receiver, Torrey Smith.
Through 11 training camp practices, Kaepernick has attempted 17 deep passes and completed only three of them.
CHANGE 2: Kaepernick is going through progressions quicker.
THE GOOD: Kaepernick used to cheerlead from the pocket. He’d stare down his primary receiver (usually Anquan Boldin), wait and plead for him to get open (come on, Anquan, you can do it!), then throw the ball to him and no one else. Everyone in the stadium saw the pass coming.
Kaepernick is cheerleading less this offseason. The past few practices, as he has gotten more comfortable behind the 49ers remade offensive line, you can see him calmly going through progressions in the pocket: One-two-three, boom-boom-boom.
As a result, Kaepernick completed passes to 10 different receivers Wednesday and Thursday.
THE NOT SO GOOD: Kaepernick threw six interceptions the first two weeks of training camp.
Instead of waiting for visual confirmation that his intended receiver is open, Kaepernick is attempting to anticipate the opening and throw the ball a beat early, like every elite quarterback does.
But Kaepernick isn’t elite yet. Every other practice he seems to throw into coverage he doesn’t see — especially when he throws to his left. It’s like he’s throwing blind.
CHANGE 3: Kaepernick is taking charge of practice.
THE GOOD: Kaepernick used to be quiet and lead by example. He’d sprint onto the field, or off the field, or from one drill to another — always trying to be first. Always trying to prove himself.
If he spoke, he almost never raised his voice or ordered someone what to do. It’s like he didn’t think the team belonged to him, and he didn’t want to speak out of turn and offend superstars like Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith or Aldon Smith.
Now those four players are gone, and all of a sudden Kaepernick’s voice is the loudest on the field. He’s man with the most to say.
Offensive players seem to look to Kaepernick for guidance. On Thursday during a red-zone drill, tight end Vernon Davis ran a post route and Kaepernick threw the ball behind Davis’ head.
In the past, Davis’ might have scolded Kaepernick for throwing a bad pass. Not on Wednesday. Davis looked around, shrugged his shoulders and turned his palms up as if to ask, “Was that my fault?” He deferred to Kaepernick’s expertise.
Kaepernick shook his head and raised his hand as if to say, “No, that was my fault.”
THE NOT SO GOOD: Kaepernick yells at players who are younger than him, have less standing.
On Aug. 7, the day the 49ers released Aldon Smith, Kaepernick screamed at third-year wide receiver Quinton Patton during warmups. The receivers were practicing a modified version of a curl route, and Patton was struggling with it. Adam Henry, the wide receivers’ coach, was critiquing Patton in a calm voice — telling him what he was doing wrong and how to correct his mistake.
Patton ran the route one more time and Kaepernick didn’t like the way he ran it, so he flipped out. For about 15 seconds, Kaepernick verbally undressed Patton in front of the whole team. Just embarrassed him. Patton stood there and took the tongue-lashing like a good soldier.
A few minutes later, Kaeprenick screamed at undrafted rookie receiver Mario Hull.
I doubt Kaepernick ever would scream at Boldin, Davis, Gore, Willis, Justin Smith, Torrey Smith, Reggie Bush, Joe Staley, Alex Boone, Glenn Dorsey, Darnell Dockett, Tramaine Brock, Antoine Bethea, Ahmad Brooks or NaVorro Bowman.
Screaming at young players isn’t leadership. It’s just screaming.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.