Day 1: The Harbaugh and Kaepernick Show

SANTA CLARA –

Here’s the first scene from the 49ers’ first practice of the 2011 training camp.

New quarterback Colin Kaepernick lined up under new center Adam Snyder, and took snaps as new head coach Jim Harbaugh watched on a knee like an umpire calling balls and strikes.

It was these three men in the middle of the field. Harbaugh’s attention was focused completely on Kaepernick, and the rookie was having trouble.

He fumbled the first few snaps – the ball squirted through his hands. Harbaugh didn’t yell or get frustrated, he taught. He moved Kaepernick aside and lined up under center himself, showing the rookie the proper way to grab the ball and drop back.

Then he made Kaepernick practice dropping back and handing the ball off to the running back. Then he made him practice one-step-drop throws to the sideline. Then he made him practice three-step-drop slants. He drilled him up and down the field on the basics of quarterbacking. He looked like Kaepernick’s private tutor.

Kaepernick’s first 49er tutor, Alex Smith, watched in shorts and t-shirt – he can’t practice until August 4. He talked on the sideline with Josh Morgan and Ted Ginn, moving his hands in the direction of their routes and pointing to the defenders on the field. Mostly he tagged along with new quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst or he stood by himself.

Harbaugh spent most his time with Kaepernick. Occasionally he would make the rounds to watch the rest of the team, but he’d gravitate back to the quarterbacks quickly. When he wanted to get the team to change activities, he would blow his whistle like the leader of a marching band. He was the loudest person on the field and the most dominant personality, no question.

Halfway through the practice Harbaugh wanted 9-on-9 scrimmages, so all the players made their way to one field, the north one. Kaepernick took the reps with the first offensive team, and when he didn’t fumble the snap he looked terrific.

Here’s how Harbaugh described his performance after practice:

“He made some fantastic throws – the kind of throws where you didn’t think the ball was going to get there fast enough, and then it got there with plenty of time to spare. He made some of the really tough throws – the corner throws, having to drop it in over the defender, having to throw the deep 20-yard in cut. Those are big-league throws, and to come out here and walk out on the first day and take the snaps with a starting offensive unit, there’s some remarkability in that.”

Kaepernick has a slight hitch in his delivery, so he looks like he’s late getting the ball out of his hand. But when it does leave his hand, it doesn’t just leave, it explodes. He made pinpoint throws 30 to 40 yards downfield – once to Vernon Davis in the right-corner of the end zone, another to Kyle Williams cutting deep over the middle.

Between the action Harbaugh would join the huddle and call plays with his arm around Kaepernick’s shoulders. He was affectionate and encouraging to his rookie, almost protective like a father.

Perhaps Harbaugh will treat Alex Smith the same way when Smith straps his helmet on and practices. Perhaps Smith will make the same “big-league” throws Kaepernick made on his first day.

We’ll have to wait until August 4 to find out. Until then, call practice the Harbaugh and Kaepernick show.

Follow me on twitter @grantcohn.

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