To say that the San Francisco 49ers passing attack has been underwhelming since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach in 2011 would be an understatement. They ranked 30th overall in passing yards last season and have been in the bottom third of the NFL in that category in each of the last three seasons.
Last season saw Michael Crabtree miss the first 11 games after suffering a torn Achilles in San Francisco’s offseason program. This left Anquan Boldin and a bunch of nothing at wide receiver. And the progression quarterback Colin Kaepernick was impacted a great deal. In total, only two 49ers receivers (Boldin and Kyle Williams) played more than 300 total snaps on the year.
This is one of the primary reasons San Francisco went out there in the offseason and sought upgrades at wide receiver. After signing Brandon Lloyd to a non-guaranteed contract early in the spring, general manager Trent Baalke and Co. pulled off a draft day trade with the Buffalo Bills for talented wide receiver Steve Johnson. They then selected former South Carolina standout Bruce Ellington in the fourth round of the draft that very same weekend.
With Boldin and Crabtree still in the mix as well as talented youngster Quinton Patton ready to make an impact, San Francisco has its deepest wide receiver group in over a decade.
How will this help Kaepernick? The talented quarterback gave his evaluation of what it means to the team in an interview with the Contra Costa Times (h/t Miami Herald).
It gives us an opportunity as an offense to do a lot more,” Kaepernick said. “You have a lot of weapons that you can put in a lot of different places. ” They all have the capability of getting open and making plays.
Kaepernick has been most impressed by the play of Johnson, who is just one year removed from putting up three consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns for Buffalo. In addition to that, Ellington has been mighty impressive during offseason activities.
Having this talent on the field is one thing. Utilizing it the right way and taking advantage of mismatches is a completely different thing. Fresh off a new contract, Kaepernick fully understands that the time is now for him to take his game to the next level, regardless of the talent San Francisco has at receiver.
That’s something I constantly think about,” Kaepernick said recently. “Not just red zone, but my play in general. How can I improve and how can I be better throughout the game? Whether it’s taking a check down or whether it’s making a big throw at the end of the championship game, what can I do different to make sure I’m making those plays?
These comments were in direct response to Kaepernick’s struggles in the NFC Championship game against the Seattle Seahawks this past January.
Of course, San Francisco will need to change its offensive philosophy in order to improve in 2014. This means running more three-wide sets with tight end Vernon Davis lined up outside of the tackle. That’s something that Kaepernick, despite playing out of the pistol at Nevada, succeeded with while in college.
It’ll be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Greg Roman and head coach Jim Harbaugh utilize these newly found weapons. In reality, they need to take the handcuffs off Kaepernick and let him do his thing. That’s the only way he’s going to naturally progress as a quarterback on the field.
Photo: Huffington Post