This is my Friday column.
Jim Tomsula started it.
Wednesday morning in the 49ers’ auditorium, a reporter asked him how Colin Kaepernick is different compared to a year ago. Through two games, Kaepernick’s passer rating is 98.1. Last season, it was only 86.4. What changed?
“We’re not asking for the same things,” Tomsula said. “It’s not the same. There’s really not things to compare it to — what we’re asking him to do and what he’s been asked to do any other year.”
Translation: Tomsula’s coaching staff is using Kaepernick differently than Jim Harbaugh’s coaching staff used him. Tomsula implied the comparison, even though he kept his statements vague.
About an hour later, Kaepernick came to the podium in the auditorium. So, naturally, a reporter followed up on the topic Tomsula raised that morning.
“What do you think Tomsula meant, and what’s your take on what you’re being asked to do that’s different?” the reporter asked.
I didn’t expect Kaepernick to answer this question. I thought he’d blurt out something like, “You’ll have to ask coach Tomsula what he meant by that,” or “It’s just football — my job is to execute what the coaches tell me.” Some non-answer. He rarely explains anything to the press.
But after hearing the question, Kaepernick paused for a second. It seemed he had something to say, and was deciding whether to say it.
Then, he said it: “I would say the biggest thing is I’m being asked to be myself this year. I don’t think anyone knows how to be myself better than me. It’s a comfort zone. It’s a situation where I’m not being asked to do things outside of my character.”
Kaepernick had just introduced a new subject — his character. What was he really talking about? Was he saying the previous coaching staff asked him to do things outside of his character?
Kaepernick kept talking. “Outside of how I would normally handle situations, yes,” he said.
Kaepernick had taken a shot at Harbaugh and the previous offensive coordinator, Greg Roman — that’s what it seemed like. But, again, what did Kaepernick mean by “character”? What was he getting at?
When pressed by the media, Kaepernick said, “I’m getting at that I was asked to do things outside of my character.” He refused to explain further. Then he started to walk off the stage as a reporter asked, “Is it safe to say you feel more relaxed right now in the pocket?” Kaepernick never broke stride. He ignored the question and walked out of the room. End of discussion.
Fair enough, although it was strange for Kaepernick to end a discussion he himself started, stranger to end it with a sense of moral indignation. But it would have been bad form for him to go any further, to criticize Harbaugh and Roman by name and break down their specific deficiencies. Kaepernick should be above that.
Allow me to explain for him.
Harbaugh and Roman tried to turn Kaepernick into a classic drop-back pocket passer, tried to turn him into Alex Smith. And in the process, they made Kaepernick look like a complete stiff.
Last season, the 49ers rarely called plays Kaepernick is comfortable running — plays like play-action passes or rollout passes or the read option. No, the Niners kept him in the pocket and highlighted all of his deficiencies.
As the season went on, Kaepernick seemed to get worse as a pocket passer. People wondered if he even was receptive to coaching, if he ever would improve.
Here’s what’s ironic: Kaepernick HAS improved his passing from the pocket this season, partly because the coaching staff doesn’t ask him to do it all the time.
They roll him out as frequently as possible — Kaepernick is a natural at throwing on the move to his right. And they let him run the read option – no one in the history of the NFL has run this play better than Kaepernick.
Everything about the 49ers’ new offense is meant to highlight Kaepernick’s strengths and make him comfortable. The Niners compromised with him: They’ll keep calling the plays he likes and de-emphasize pocket passing without eliminating it completely.
Think of it like raising a toddler. It’s as if Harbaugh and Roman fed Kaepernick nothing but squash and brussels sprouts, thinking that was best for him. Kaepernick resented that menu. He wanted pizza and cookies.
This season, Tomsula and Geep Chryst are feeding Kaepernick a more balanced diet. So Kaepernick is open-minded, because now he likes the taste of things.
That’s what he probably meant.
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.