Kaepernick inspiring a devoted pre-draft following

Say this for Colin Kaepernick: He’s made fervent believers out of those who’ve worked with him leading up to the NFL draft.

In this NFL.com article, Chip Smith, who has trained both Kaepernick and potential No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton, gives the edge to Kaepernick in the areas of athleticism, arm strength and football IQ.

The 6-foot-5, 228-pound Kaepernick is the only quarterback in NCAA history to pass for over 10,000 yards and rush for over 4,000 in a career. In his only season at Auburn, Newton threw for 2,854 yards and ran for 1,473 en route to winning the Heisman Trophy.

“… Colin is actually a little bit better athletically,” Smith said. “He’s a little faster – I’ve clocked him as low as a 4.4 (in the 40-yard dash) — and there isn’t a quarterback in this draft who throws the ball with the velocity that Colin does. Colin is a better athlete, and he understands the game better.”

Smith, the founder of Competitive Edge Sports in Georgia, talks about the former Nevada quarterback with the same zeal as Roger Theder, Kaepernick’s longtime personal coach.

Theder, 71, the former Cal coach and NFL assistant, has worked with Kaepernick since he was a freshman at Pitman High in Turlock. He also travels to Atlanta each year to work as the quarterbacks coach at Smith’s facility. As a result, he spent six weeks with Kaepernick prior to the NFL Combine. Theder also scripted Kaepernick’s drills at Nevada’s pro day in March.

“I think he’s the best quarterback coming out of the draft, by far,” Theder said Monday. “… I don’t think he’s a project. If he is and they want him to back someone up, that’s fine. But I think Colin is ready to play right now. I think he understands the game. I think being in that Pistol offense, it’s not really a spread offense. You have to read some of similar things that you do under center and Colin can drop back, he can play in a spread offense, he can do whatever you want him to do.”

The project label has been attached to Kaepernick due to the level of competition he faced in college and the non-traditional NFL offense Nevada ran. In addition, there have been concerns about Kaepernick’s release, which some believe will need to be sped up considerably at the NFL level.

At the combine, Kaepernick said that he’d worked on shortening his release. But he noted there’s only so much shortening he could do with a 79-1/2 inch wingspan.

“He may be 6-5 or whatever he is, but his release is outstanding,” Theder said. “The only thing he did sometimes when I started with him is that he would bring the ball back slow and bring it forward very fast. That was the only thing we worked on. We didn’t work on compacting his release or keeping his left hand on the ball longer – any of that stuff. He doesn’t need any tweaking on his release whatsoever.”

Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke had a private workout with Kaepernick in Reno in March.

And if they’re believers like Smith and Theder, it figures they’ll have to trade up from the No. 45 overall pick to land the fast-rising Kaepernick, who was recently invited to attend the NFL draft in New York. Whoever drafts him will get tenacity to go with talent, Theder said.

“I think the best way to describe Colin is that he’s very hungry,” he said. “He wants to be a good player. He works at it. I think that’s the difference and it separates him from all of the other quarterbacks. He really wants to be very good.”

• Theder also counts Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Johnson as a longtime pupil. Johnson, a graduate of Oakland Tech, has been back in the Bay Area during the offseason and Theder has worked with Johnson a few times a week.

Johnson has been connected in trade rumors to the 49ers due to his relationship with Jim Harbaugh, his coach for his first three seasons at the University of San Diego. NFL teams can only trade draft picks during the lockout.

“I’m really impressed with Josh,” Theder said. “He made Jim Harbaugh and Jim Harbaugh made him. They had a great relationship at USD. I think Josh is an outstanding quarterback. He’s too good to be sitting on the bench, that’s for darn sure.”

Theder suggested Johnson would like to reunite with his former college coach, “He can’t really talk to the 49ers,” he said. “He’d like to, but he can’t.”

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