Kaepernick is 49ers' Mr. Versatility

| Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, 8:28 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS — Colin Kaepernick was just another face in the crowd during 49ers training camp. Now, he's the face of a franchise that could match the Steelers by winning a sixth Super Bowl.

How rapidly Kaepernick transformed himself from Alex Smith's backup into a much-watched star — it took only seven regular-season games and a few weeks of playoff games — finally hit center Jonathan Goodwin when the 49ers pulled into the Big Easy on Sunday and were greeted by a huge picture of the quarterback in their hotel garage.

“It's amazing. He was the backup quarterback a couple of months ago. Now, he is the guy that's going up on the walls in stadiums. Hats off to him,” Goodwin said. “He's a guy that just about every morning when I pull up to the facilities he's already out on the field doing extra stuff. He works his tail off, and he deserves every bit of success.”

A few months before the former Nevada quarterback was the backup, he was considered the backup to the backup. While Kaepernick was a second-round draft pick, the 49ers signed quarterback Josh Johnson to a $2.15 million, two-year deal during the offseason. Johnson played for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh at San Diego State, and there was an expectation he would back up Smith.

“At the start of the season, I was just hoping to get on the field some way, somehow,” Kaepernick said.

It's getting Kaepernick off the field that's proving troublesome for opponents. He is on the verge of joining quarterbacks such as Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Tom Brady, Jim Plunkett, Doug Williams, Jeff Hostetler and Trent Dilfer by winning the Super Bowl during a season in which he wasn't a starter when the season began. Bradshaw did it for the Steelers during the strike year of 1974, when Joe Gilliam won the starter's job as Bradshaw and other veterans were holding out during training camp.

Yet Kaepernick is unlike anyone else in that group because he possesses not only arm strength and downfield accuracy, but because he can change a game with his running ability — as illustrated by his 181 yards rushing against the mystified Packers. 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman and quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst assembled a package of college-type read option plays designed to take advantage of his quarterback's long strides and uncommon speed for a quarterback.

“When Colin is running and the stride that he has, the gracefulness with his stride, the ground that he covers, how fast and quick he is reminds me of myself,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Then I wake up.”

Uncommon is a word associated with Kaepernick in many ways, most recently with how he engineered the 49ers' comeback from a 17-0 deficit on the road in the NFC Championship Game in Atlanta — and without starting even a half-season in the NFL beforehand to guide him.

“He has proven he is a very, very capable quarterback and does amazing things out there on the football field. No moment is too big,” left tackle Joe Staley said. “It seems like every single situation you put him up (against) it is like, ‘Well, let's see how he responds to this one.' Colin answers the bell and does amazing. It was not like, ‘Oh my gosh, I cannot believe we came back.' It was what we expected and what we had seen the whole entire season from him.”

Well, at least part of the second half of the season, when Kaepernick threw for 10 touchdowns with only three interceptions. He has three TD passes, one interception and 202 yards rushing in the postseason.

“For a young guy who started half of the season, when things go wrong, he stays calm,” running back Frank Gore said. “Defenses just don't know what they're going to get from him. He can run, throw, block. He can do whatever.”

The 49ers just hope Kaepernick doesn't wake up against a Ravens defense that will be intent on demystifying the quarterback who has needed very little time to do things no quarterback has ever done, at least not in the postseason.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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