January 30, 2013

Agostini Super Bowl blog: 49ers' QB coach raves about Kap

To 49ers quarterbacks coach George Patrick "Geep" Chryst, the overnight-sensation portion of the Colin Kaepernick story is legitimate if somewhat misleading.

Ron's Blog, Thursday, 4:10 p.m.

One of the most engaging members of the 49ers' coaching staff is quarterbacks coach George Patrick "Geep" Chryst.

Coach Jim Harbaugh was mentored by Chryst in 1999, when Harbaugh -- the quarterback of the San Diego Chargers back then -- compiled the second-best passing season of his long career. Harbaugh remembered Chryst, an 18-year coaching veteran of the NFL, and hired him two years ago.

Check out the results: Chryst (his brother is Pittsburgh Panthers coach Paul Chryst) assisted in the rehabilitation of Alex Smith last year, and now he watches over Kaepernick's remarkable ascendancy. To Chryst, the overnight-sensation portion of the Kaepernick story is legitimate if somewhat misleading.

"I remember how hard Kaepernick worked last year. He's just wired in a certain way you just love," said Chryst, a graduate of Princeton. "He's physically imposing now. I can pull out his high school yearbook and show you."

Chryst also pointed out a parallel between Kaepernick and Andrew Luck, the former Stanford star who's already one of the NFL's top quarterbacks. Redshirting Luck during his freshman year, a decision ratified by then Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh and assistants Greg Roman (offensive coordinator) and Tim Drevno (offensive line coach), proved successful. One year later, Luck launched his brilliant collegiate career.

Those same three coaches, now with the 49ers, had a hand in letting Kaepernick sit as an NFL rookie while Alex Smith led the 49ers to the NFC championship game. Ultimately, Kaepernick carried the day one season later.

"You can watch him on tape or study him, but his tools still catch opponents off-guard," Chryst said. "When he makes that decision to give or pull (on the read-option), that's difficult to follow. There's a sleight-of-hand that's fun to watch. We're thrilled when we see him going downhill and leveraging the defense."

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and coach Jim Harbaugh are pictured at Thursday's practice (The Associated Press).

Ron's Blog, Thursday, 2:45 p.m.

Colin Kaepernick walked slowly away from the escalator at a downtown New Orleans hotel Wednesday. His brain no-doubt fried from still another 1-hour thrust-and-parry with the media, he zoned out as he wore a headset over his cap slung low on his forehead. An acquaintance offered a modest wave but Kaepernick was traveling in another land. Soon, the San Francisco 49ers would be practicing for the first time this week in preparation for Sunday's Super Bowl game against the Baltimore Ravens. Kaepernick, the Turlock-raised 49er star quarterback, already was locked and loaded.

It was the easiest prediction: There was no chance Kaepernick would go deer-antler or gay-slam on us this week. Win or lose -- and so far it's mostly win -- the Pitman High graduate is all about the game.

"I'm not here to give advice. That's not my job," Kaepernick said Thursday in reference to a question regarding 49er nickel back Chris Culliver, who stopped the Super Bowl shuffle cold this week with his anti-gay remarks to comedian Artie Lange during Media Day. "I have to play football. that's what we have a PR department for."

Kaepernick may have stumbled upon a stressful fact for the 49ers. Though Culliver did not dodge the media onslaught Thursday and apologized over and over, he has presented the team's front office with a sack-full of trash. The 49ers will feel pressure from gay-rights opponents to suspend Culliver. If he doesn't sit on Sunday, perhaps it will happen next season. Here was a young 49er prospect, potentially a future starter at corner, who delivered a bigoted bombshell that tore into constituencies across the country, two of them located in New Orleans and San Francisco.

The issue will become a major litmus test for Jed York, the 32-year-old CEO of the 49ers. He criticized Culliver's words Thursday, calling them "very dumb," "uninformed" and "juvenile." Whether his response and Culliver's backtracking tamps down the firestorm remains to be seen. Regardless, it was the last thing the 49ers need three days before the game.

But guess what: Stuff always happens during Super Bowl week. Ray Lewis, the Ravens' 17-year linebacker and almost certain Hall of Fame inductee, was linked in a report concerning the usage of a deer antler extract, a substance banned by the NFL, to accelerate his recovery from a torn triceps.

Lewis has worn out everyone this week with his faith-based preaching and farewell proclamations. Did everyone forget that Thursday was the 13-year anniversary of the stabbing deaths of two people outside a nightclub in Atlanta? Blood from the incident was found in Lewis' limo and the white suit he was wearing -- not long after the St. Louis Rams' Super Bowl victory over Tennessee the night before -- was never found.

He also reportedly told other passengers to "keep their mouths shut." Lewis virtually skated, drawing only a year's probation and a $250,000 fine.

He's rehabbed his reputation, to the point the matter wasn't even discussed during Thursday's media session. Lewis has denied that he used the deer antler extract. Fact is, he caught the break of the week when Culliver trumped his story.

As for Kaepernick, his only priority is kickoff.

49ers long snapper Brian Jennings, left, and punter Andy Lee seemed weary of all the Super Bowl interviews on Wednesday.

Ron's Blog, Thursday, 9:30 a.m.

The longest-tenured member of the San Francisco 49ers sees life upside-down.

Brian Jennings, 36, never is noticed unless he commits a serious error, like sailing the ball 10 feet over the punter's head. He's the long-snapper, a veteran of 13 seasons for the 49ers, which means he's reduced the mistakes to a precious few.

"I'm good at my job. I take pride in what I do," Jennings said this week. "As long as I help my team, I'll be here."

Jennings (6-foot-5, 242 pounds), a former snapper/tight end at Arizona State, is no football geek. The Arizona native was a three-sport star in high school and, to this day, is a 49ers' backup tight end. He was acquired by San Francisco in the seventh round of the 2000 draft (the 230th selection overall) to execute one of football's most specialized and least appreciated jobs.

Jennings also appreciates the anonymity.

"Most football players live normal lives. It's great and I'm grateful to play for as long as I have and still have a normal life," he said.

That's not to say he's without his quirks. Jennings does not eat poultry due to a fear of birds (!) and gets by largely on a strict whole grain and beef diet. But football-wise, he's a straight-arrow. He runs Jennings 1-4-1, which is dedicated to developing the art and science of long-snapping.

"I have a skill-set and I take care of myself to stay physically durable and strong," he said. "I avoid foods that promote inflammation."

Ron's Blog, Wednesday, 5:05 p.m.

The San Francisco 49ers' final connection to their Super Bowl years is not afraid to play that 5-0 card.

"It adds confidence. I told 'em we were 5-0 in these games," running backs coach Tom Rathman said. "This game was easier for us to win than the championship game."

Rathman, the squat fullback with the oversized neck brace, did a lot of winning in 49er red. His eight-year run in San Francisco resulted in seven playoff appearances and back-to-back NFL championships in 1988 and '89.

Perhaps all that success spoiled him. His 15-year term on the coaching staff began with a drive to the NFC championship game in 1997 under Steve Mariucci. Alas, the 49ers didn't return to that level until last year.

"I didn't think it would take 15 years to get to the Super Bowl," Rathman said. "I was very fortunate as a player to be on a team that nearly always got to the playoffs. "I'm especially happy for Frank Gore because he's in his eighth year and he finally got to the Super Bowl."

Rathman, who especially enjoyed the atmosphere and the energy of the Super Dome during all those old NFC West games against the New Orleans Saints, understands Sunday's high stakes. Experience tells him it's a fleeting opportunity.

"If you win this football game, it puts you in another stratosphere," he said. "Gore could be a Hall-of-Fame caliber player if he's victorious. This is a big stage."

Kaepernick meets the press on Wednesday morning

Ron's Blog, Wednesday, 11:45 a.m.

Colin Kaepernick walked into the New Orleans Downtown Marriott, the scene for Wednesday morning's media session with the San Francisco 49ers, and saw this: A huge closeup photo of himself preparing to throw, an illustration so large it covered the wall of the hotel lobby.

The images of Kaepernick and the Ravens' Joe Flacco and Ray Lewis virtually drape The Big Easy. They're playing the leading roles of Super Bowl XLVII as the buildup continues toward Sunday. Kaepernick, the 49ers' quarterback from Turlock, conceded the week's strange brew of media commitments as the nation gears up toward the season's biggest game.

"It's a little bit weird for me," he admitted. "It's not necessarily crazy, but it's something different."

The questions come almost nonstop at each interview about Kaepernick's relationship with Alex Smith, the veteran quarterback Kaepernick replaced nine games ago. The move was provocative by coach Jim Harbaugh, given the fact Smith performed at a high level for more than half the season, and that he originally was replaced due to a concussion.

Smith, an honest and straight-talking athlete since his arrival in San Francisco, has handled a difficult situation as well as possible. Remember, he led the 49ers to the NFC championship game a year ago and would have reached the Super Bowl if not for two muffed punts against the New York Giants.

"It's been tough at times for sure, tough to accept, tough to watch, but we're in the Super Bowl, and this has been an amazing experience," Smith said. "It's a great team, I love being a part of it. I have said it before, it's bittersweet a little bit, but still, it's been a great thing to be a part of."

Kaepernick validated Harbaugh's Hunch with his explosive and dynamic style. His strong arm and speed -- he literally pulls away from defenders -- have brought graphic new dimensions to the San Francisco offense. That he wasn't comfortable waiting for his chance says a lot about his confidence.

"It was tough watching this team and not being able to contribute," Kaepernick said. "For me, what kept me going was the fact that I might get out there. When I did, I needed to take advantage of it. I think that is the biggest thing."

Virtually all observers agree Smith will find new employment in the NFL next season. He looks good to several teams, and he'll receive the second huge paycheck of his career. It's a better-than-good consolation prize, and it also might explain Smith's graciousness through a difficult time. Then again, he's never been less than gracious.

"Alex has been phenomenal and he's done nothing but things to help this team," Kaepernick said. "He's done nothing but help me. I mean he's been great through it."

And the band played on ... in the media center

Bigger than life Kaepernick part of SB landscape

Ron's Blog, Wednesday, 8:45 a.m.

Gil Brandt has been evaluating talent and shaping the NFL game for about a half-century.

The former vice president and personnel chief of the Dallas Cowboys (1960-1988), one of the men most responsible for the Cowboys' becoming one of the game's most glamorous franchises, turns 80 in March.

Brandt still provides his insight as a regular on the Sirius Radio Network, and he still is a go-to guy for insight and expertise on everything from strategy to, yes, talent level.

By the way, he loves 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and that fondness is not because both are Wisconsin natives.

"He's such an amazing story," Brandt said. "A mother gave up her son for adoption. Apparently, she is an amazing woman because he's an amazing kid."

Like many around the NFL, Brandt does not see the current influx of runners/passers at quarterback as a fad. He points to the game's roots, football's base levels, for proof.

"You have better athletes who are bigger and faster and they work on their passing," he said. "It is a great thing for the NFL.

"In the playoffs this season, we had teams that scored 28 points and did not win. The quarterbacks coming into the game are more polished in their passing skills. Those 7-on-7 passing leagues in high school have become such a big thing in developing quarterbacks."

For further evidence of football's fundamental change, Brandt referred to the Oklahoma Sooners, who threw the ball about once a month decades ago.

"Oklahoma attempted 619 times this year," he said. "It's all been turned around. Quarterbacks are coached better. All those quarterback camps also have played a role."

The Bee's Ron Agostini, covering the Super Bowl in New Orleans, will be blogging and shooting video throughout the week and all day at Check back throughout the day.

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