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QB lessons should compel 49ers' Jim Harbaugh to be bold in Kaepernick-Smith decision

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

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Colin Kaepernick looks like the new S.F. starter.

As a quarterback who came up short of greatness and was eventually replaced by it, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh has an acute understanding of what it takes from that position to achieve a championship.

With that in mind, Harbaugh reportedly made second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick his starter, replacing incumbent Alex Smith, who was informed by Harbaugh that the reason was unrelated to Smith's concussion, according to Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated.

Armed with a great defense, a strong offensive line and a powerful running game, the 49ers are poised to return to the playoffs this season after making the NFC championship game. Going with Kaepernick would be a bold move, but a safe play that people make when they've had a little success and think they can recreate it easily. It's the move that ignores what's going on around the NFL.

The bold maneuver wouldn't be so much about Kaepernick's superlative performance against Chicago on Monday night. It's about what Kaepernick might do if given a chance to develop, starting now.

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On the Road

Chad Henne at Houston

It's possible, perhaps even likely, that the play we saw from Jacksonville Jaguars backup quarterback Chad Henne on Sunday will go down as the 2012 NFL road performance of the season.

What most expected to be an easy home matchup for the Houston Texans turned into an immediate game of the year candidate once Henne replaced the injured Blaine Gabbert in the first quarter, and the fifth-year QB out of Michigan would have been largely responsible for the biggest upset of 2012 had the Jacksonville defense been able to seal the deal late in the fourth quarter of a 43-37 Texans victory. Granted, one can't adequately speak about this game without also mentioning rookie WR Justin Blackmon, who quickly became a dream pickup for fantasy football owners after reeling in seven passes for 236 yards and one touchdown.

However, it was Henne's unforeseen four-touchdown afternoon that could ultimately change the Jaguars offense moving forward.

Gabbert has rarely, if ever, looked like a quarterback capable of leading any NFL offense during his two seasons in the league. Henne, who had his way with what was the third-best pass defense in the league, may not prove to be a long-term answer for Jacksonville, but he deserves at least four more quarters to prove himself to a franchise that really has nothing to lose at this point.

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He can be great with his rocket arm and deer-like legs. Anyone who saw his talents – accuracy, touch and composure – knows that Kaepernick can translate the raw into the refined.

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By comparison, Smith is a good quarterback with a low ceiling. His arm is mundane, lacking the power to cut through the winds of Candlestick Park. He has good scrambling ability, but he doesn't scare anyone with his legs. If you put Smith up against likely NFC playoff foes Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay, Eli Manning of the New York Giants, Jay Cutler of Chicago, Matt Ryan of Atlanta and Drew Brees of New Orleans or Tony Romo of Dallas, he might be fourth best.

At best.

Throw in possible AFC foes Tom Brady of New England, Peyton Manning of Denver, Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh or even Matt Schaub of Houston, and Smith continues to fall in the rankings.

Harbaugh knows that better than anyone. That's why he used his power to push for Kaepernick in the draft last year. It's why he tried to recruit Peyton Manning in the offseason.

Like Smith, Harbaugh had a good-but-not-great career. He made an AFC championship game with Indianapolis in the 1995 season. By 1998, the Colts had sent Harbaugh packing and drafted Peyton Manning.

Understand the lesson? It's OK if you don't, because Harbaugh learned it very well. He watched during the 1990s as guys like Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Brett Favre and John Elway dominated.

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Harbaugh has watched the past decade or so as Brady, Roethlisberger, the Mannings, Brees and Rodgers have combined to win 10 of the past 11 titles. The 11 years is perhaps the greatest era of quarterbacking in NFL history.

If you want to win a title and take advantage of the terrific talent you have, you better have a great trigger man. Good is acceptable, but the potential for great is too compelling, too necessary.

And that's why, as Harbaugh watched Kaepernick fire strikes downfield at one moment and later roll left to buy time before deftly throwing a TD pass, Harbaugh knew. He knew he had someone with special talent. He knew he had to make a move.

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He had to make it now. With the 49ers playing New Orleans this week and four of the next five on the road, Harbaugh has a limited amount of time to get Kaepernick ready for a playoff run.

Or, more important, a run to the greatness that eluded Harbaugh as a player.

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