FOXBORO - For four-plus games, Colin Kaepernick has been the 49ers starter.
San Francisco won three, lost one and tied the one game in which Kaepernick relieved an injured Alex Smith.
Good start. But listening to Bill Belichick on Wednesday, it seemed as if the Patriots head coach wasn't comfortable sending too much adulation to Kaepernick just yet. Not enough evidence submitted.
For instance, asked if Kaepernick is "reading the field well," which is something Niners coach Jim Harbaugh credited Kaepernick with, Belichick said, "Hes had limited opportunities. I think you certainly see it at times. Im sure if Coach Harbaugh said it, Im sure its right. Hes with him every day. Hes really started the last what, four games? Weve seen him have opportunities to do it but not as many as theyve seen. I think hes done it to a degree. Hes a young, improving quarterback. It looks like he gets better each week and probably plays with more confidence and does things a little bit better each week. But, I wouldnt disagree with (Coach Harbaugh)."
There's no doubt Kaepernick brings a dynamic to the Niners that Smith didn't. Kaepernick is an electric athlete (with a bold, classical music soundtrack). He's able to test a defense both with his arm and his legs and he's a hard player to tackle. Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick, has mobility, but not to the same degree Kaepernick does.
Above all that, though, Kaepernick has shown two of the qualities Belichick stresses.
Kaepernick is accurate (completing 67 percent of his passes) and has made good decisions routinely (three touchdowns, one interception).
"I could probably go out there and read the field decently but I dont think youd want me playing quarterback," said Belichick. "There are other guys that can thread a needle but maybe not see as well. I think the combination of seeing the field, making good decisions and accuracy is really what it comes down to more than some other qualities. Not that those arent important, but I would put those at the top of the list."
With Kaepernick, the Niners are running with a full-house backfield, pressuring defenses to defend multiple potential ballcarriers in addition to receivers.
"They attack you everywhere; everybody has to do a good job (defensively)," said Belichick. "They can run inside, they can run outside, they can keep it, they play-action off it. Really, everybody has to be at the point of attack. No one player can stop it, no one guy can. Eleven guys have to play good team defense. Im sure thats why theyre doing it is to try to put stress on every player on the defense and they do." Belichick was asked if Kaepernick was unique in that he not only runs fast, but also runs with strength.
"I think we saw that with Tim Tebow last year. He was a guy that broke a lot of tackles, ran the ball inside, he was more like a running back," Belichick countered. "I think each player has their own individual style. Guys do some things, other guys there are a lot of different ways to be effective. But it looks like he can certainly out-run the defense. He has good speed, he has some quickness, he has some running skill. Its not just speed."
Belichick didn't opine on whether he believed the move from Smith to Kaepernick was the right one. No surprise there. But he did reveal his bottom-line philosophy when he was asked what a coach takes into consideration when making a quarterback switch.
"To win. There are no other considerations. ... Thats the only thing were really here for is to win. What else is there? I dont know. What else is there to talk about?"