In every draft class, there's a name that starts to climb up the charts (and up the boards of draft analysts and teams) from the Senior Bowl through the week of the draft itself. This year, that name seems be Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is drawing more and more interest in a quarterback class without a specific alpha dog. Teaming with head coach Chris Ault to run a modified run-action offense called the Pistol (read more about the Pistol here and here), the lightly-recruited former baseball pitcher eventually became one of the most productive quarterbacks in recent NCAA history, and the main man behind Nevada's 13-1 record, BCS ranking of 11th, and upset win over Boise State.
We recently talked with Kaepernick about his trip up the ladder, why he's climbing the charts of late, what he can bring to an NFL team. This is part one of the interview; part two can be seen here. You can also read the recent Shutdown 40 scouting report on Kaepernick here.
Shutdown Corner: Talk about your relationship with Nevada head coach Chris Ault, and how it started. He's obviously an offensive genius, and you've become one of the NCAA's productive quarterbacks — how that dynamic work? What's he like as a builder of offenses?
Colin Kaepernick: When I first got here, it was a very tough relationship, because he's so demanding of quarterbacks, and he coaches all of our quarterbacks. So, he expects us to be perfect, whether you're a redshirt freshman or a senior — he expects you to perform the same. And coming in, it was tough because of the type of offense I came from in high school (Wing-T), making that transition was tough as far as knowing what he wanted to get done. For me, as I got older and started to get better and improved my game, that's when our relationship changed to more of a partnership that it was more of a "dictatorship" when it started. By my senior year, it was really a partnership as far as, 'What plays are you comfortable with; what plays do you like this week; what would you like to do that you think will work best, because you're the one on the field?' The way he coaches the players, and the way he interacts with them, he's going to get the best out of any player, no matter who you are.
SC: Coach Ault is noted as the founder of the Pistol offense, which is a really intriguing combination of traditional and spread offenses. Could you go through what the quarterback's role is on the Pistol, from play call to throw, and how specifically that offense helped to be so productive? Because it seems that it would be the perfect system for a guy who can run and throw deep.
CK: If you have a mobile quarterback, I think the Pistol is something that really allows him to showcase his talents. And I think that with me being able to run so well, our offense kind of evolved from my freshman year to my senior year. And for me as the quarterback — you get your original play from the sidelines, and you have to distribute the individual parts of the play to the receivers, running back, tight end, and offensive line. So, you don't give them the full play; you just give them their parts. You have to be on top of your game mentally, On top of that, all the checks and audibles — anything like that is on the quarterback, based on what he's seeing from the defensive? That's something we're trained to do, and once you get to the point where you're comfortable with it, it becomes very easy to do.
SC: What specific aspects of the Pistol make you more attuned for the NFL than the typical spread quarterback? And I'm really interested in your take on this, because you're the first guy to come out of college with a starter grade to run this kind of offense as a primary system.
CK: I think that the Pistol is different than most people's perception of it. Our passing game — we have progressions like most NFL teams do. We throw to different receivers based on the coverage, and what side of the field we want to work. There are times when you might have two different progressions in a play, based on what coverage it is, and you have to know that based on what you're throwing to. And I think that a lot of people think that in the Pistol, we're just dropping back, throwing to one guy, and calling it a day -- and then, we're going to run the option. That's really not the case, once you have someone explain to you what we're trying to get done.
SC: And that's true of you — a lot of times, when you rolled out, it was to extend the play and get a better sense of where your progressions had developed.
CK: And for me, most of my rushing yards came off of designed running plays in our read option. As far as dropping back and taking off and scrambling, that was something I did from time to time. But for the most part, when it was a pass play, I was dropping back, looking at my receivers, and going through my progressions. And if it wasn't there, I was scrambling to extend the play — trying to make a pass, not a run.
SC: How much experience do you have under center?
CK: I played under center my whole life until I got to Nevada. Even at Nevada, we took snaps under center (in practice) every day, just to make sure we were still comfortable with it. If we got in a situation where we did have to go under. I don't really see that as a learning curve, or something I'm going to have to adjust to when I get to the next level.
SC: What was the highlight of your time at Nevada? Beating Boise State, or something else?
CK: No, that was the one single moment — the one game that was the highlight. But this whole 2010 season was the highlight of my career. A lot of hard work paid off that season, and we had a lot of players come out and perform for us. So, it was just a great year.
SC: There's been a lot of talk about your throwing motion and delivery, and I wanted to first ask you how that developed.
CK: I'm not really sure how that started — I think it was just how I threw when I was younger, and from there, I tried to tighten it up more and more. I always kind of reached back — part of that might be from baseball — but I'm really not too sure.
SC: Pitching brings up another interesting point, because Jake Locker has done a lot of pitching as well — was drafted by the Angels — and he has had some issues with consistent release points. Is that something you ever struggled with, as the arm setup and release points for the two sports are so different?
CK: I don't think that's really something I ever struggled too much with. I was never too worried about my arm slot; it was about whether I was competing passes. And as I got older, people started telling me to get my arm up more, and doing things a little bit differently, so I started working on things from there. But until my sophomore year, it was just about throwing it up there and completing passes.