NEW ORLEANS -- There's no question that Andrew Luck became perhaps the most valued quarterback prospect of his generation with a great deal hard work and talent, but playing for Jim Harbaugh at Stanford added a lot to the picture. Harbaugh, an NFL quarterback for 14 years, took Luck's raw ability and helped form it into something special when the two worked together at Stanford, and Luck has never forgotten that. Luck work withed 49ers quarterback Alex Smith when Harbaugh could not because of the 2011 lockout, giving Smith an overall view of what the team's offense would look like under its new coach.
And, as it turns out, Luck was involved in the process by which Harbaugh and 49ers general manager Trent Baalke selected Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
As Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle recently wrote, Luck and Kaepernick first met at the Manning Passing Academy in 2010, when Kaepernick was an under-the-radar prospect and Luck was the headliner. The Academy is a longtime concern of Archie, Peyton, and Eli Manning, and it's a way for the best and brightest quarterbacks on their way up to make themselves known and get additional pointers about the position. Luck didn't have to bull his way in, but Kaepernick did -- in the end, Nevada head coach Chris Ault had to write a letter of recommendation to get the lanky passer in the camp.
When Luck returned to Stanford, Harbaugh asked him if he'd seen any quarterbacks worthy of mention. Luck, who had become friends with Kaepernick at the Academy, said that Harbaugh should keep an eye on Kaepernick. After he was hired by the 49ers, Harbaugh went to Reno in the spring of 2011 to try Kaepernick out.
“We had a few competitions, different drills and different accuracy things," Kaepernick recalled during the 49ers' introductory press conference in New Orleans on Sunday evening. "Just head up and see who could compete and win. We had different goal-post throws, who could throw a better spiral, things like that. I let him win the first one, and I won the rest.”
After the two men threw the ball around, according to Hostler, there was an abrupt ending to the festivities.
A friend asked Kaepernick how the meeting with Harbaugh went.
"I think I pissed him off," Kaepernick said.
More likely, Harbaugh had done all the scouting work on Kaepernick, who was downgraded by some NFL teams because he was seen to be the product of a "gimmick" offense. Most likely, Harbaugh understood that in watching Kaepernick throw for more than 10,000 yards and run for more than 4,000 in college, he had the potential to be a franchise signal-caller in an offensive like Harbaugh's, which is based on the run game and overall efficiency, but also has elements of motion and play-action. And in time, Harbaugh was able to merge the read-option and Pistol offenses Kaepernick knew with his own NFL concepts.
“I thought it would work to some extent," Kaepernick said on Sunday, when asked if he believed that his college concepts would work in the NFL. "I didn’t think it was something you could run every play. There are too many good athletes on defense at this level. Not so much the speed, just the fact that everybody is good on defense. There are not really too many people you can just pick on in the NFL like there are in college.”
So far, it's been a marriage made in heaven. And Andrew Luck helped set up that first blind date.