What do Kurt Warner’s comments say about Jim Harbaugh?

Colin Kaepernick‘s decision to train with Kurt Warner this offseason has been well documented.

After a year in which he saw his play regress dramatically, Kaepernick has turned to the former Super Bowl winning quarterback in an effort to get his career back on track.

Mark Purdy of the Mercury News caught up with Warner during the Super Bowl media day, and when he asked him about Kaepernick, the answer was both candid and telling:

“We’re early in the process,” said Warner. “We’ve only worked together a few days so far. But it’s a full process. To play quarterback, there’s a lot of different things.”

“Start with the physical part of it.” “We’re trying to teach him . . . what ‘normal’ looks like for a quarterback. Not an athletic quarterback. Not a guy that you’ve thrown in there and allowed to live on his athletic ability. It’s about getting balanced and being in a situation where your technique is so good, that it drives how you throw the football. So we’re starting there.”

“Then the second part is going to be seeing how far we can push him from a mental standpoint, to understand the whole game,” Warner said. “And I’ve been very impressed so far with what he knows mentally. We’ve been on the (chalk)board and we’ve talked about it. Been very pleased with where he is at. But you know, the whole thing is, you have to be able to decipher what 22 guys are doing, or at least 11 guys on the other side, in three seconds, know where to go with the football, know how to get there and technique-wise, be able to get it there. So we’re going to push the envelope in all those areas and see how far we can get him.

“But it still starts with technique,” Warner continued. “Because if you don’t have technique, you’ll never have consistency. And then from there, we’ll go to the mental side of it and see how far we can push the envelope and how good he can be.”

Warner’s comments seem to only solidify what most fans and pundits already knew: Kaepernick is screwed up right now.

The fact that he emphasized technique in such a way, gave you the impression that he was working with a raw player, not someone who’s been in the league for four years.

So if Kaepernick’s struggling so much with just the basic fundamentals of playing quarterback, what does that say about his former coach, the “quarterback whisperer” Jim Harbaugh?

When Harbaugh came to the San Francisco 49ers in 2011, he did so with a reputation for getting the most of out his quarterback position. In college, he helped mold players like Josh Johnson and Andrew Luck into prolific and well coached signal callers.

Kaepernick, whom the 49ers traded up to select in the second round of the 2011 draft, was Harbaugh’s hand picked guy.

But Kaepernick wasn’t ready to play right away, and the 49ers decided to stick with the underachieving Alex Smith in the early going.

Smith was a former number one overall pick and hadn’t come close to looking like anything near a starting quarterback in the league, let alone one you could build a franchise around.

But the Harbaugh magic seemed to work early on, and Smith turned his career around. Before Harbaugh got there, Smith had a 19-31 record as a starter with 51 touchdown passes to 53 interceptions. He completed 57 percent of his passes.  In the next year and half, Smith would go 19-5-1, with 30 touchdown passes to only 10 interceptions. His completion rate during that time was 64 percent.

Smith got hurt in Week 9 of 2012 however, and Kaepernick took over and never looked back. He went 5-2 as a starter, completing 62 percent of this throws and leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl. The extra dimension he added by running the ball, gave defenses something else they had to account for. He averaged nine carries a game in 2012 at 6.6 yards per attempt.

While it was understandable to think that Kaepernick would have some bumps in the road moving forward, his play the past two years has been troublesome. Harbaugh seemed to want to make him a pocket passer, but Kaepernick wasn’t taking to the plan.

Kaepernick has looked lost for much of 2013-2014, often breaking the pocket too early and struggling to see the field. He seems to have one speed on his throws (fast), and that makes for a ball that is sometimes hard for his receivers to catch.

His running, while still a factor, wasn’t as big of a weapon as it once was. After scoring five rushing touchdowns in his first seven games as a starter, Kaepernick’s has 5 in the 32 regular season games since.

So the question is, if Harbaugh had such a good  record working with quarterbacks, why did he fail with Kaepernick?

Was Harbaugh too consumed with getting out of San Francisco last season, and his attention to detail slipped? Was Kaepernick just too stuck in his ways and wasn’t open to teaching?

Regardless of what really happened, the fact that Kaepernick has gone outside of the organization for help, is a dent in Harbaugh’s reputation. Obviously, there’s nothing Harbaugh could have done to help now anyway since he’s no longer with the 49ers, but Kaepernick was his choice, his pupil for the last four years.

No one is saying Harbaugh was a bad coach for the 49ers, he was the complete opposite actually, and had tremendous success. But something was off with the Kaepernick situation, and Warner’s comments only magnify that.

It will be interesting to see what progress, if any, Kaepernick makes sans Harbaugh in 2015.

Photo: Getty Images



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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a contributor to 49erswebzone.com and Ninerfans.com. He's been a guest on numerous podcasts and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY.


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