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Colin Kaepernick gets his shot: An inside look at the 49ers’ quarterback switch

Frank Schwab
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(USA Today Sports Images)

Jim Harbaugh didn't decide to change quarterbacks on a whim. A lot went into benching Alex Smith, who was playing very well before he suffered a concussion Nov. 11, and going with untested Colin Kaepernick for the rest of the season. A lot of those factors happened far away from the public eye.

Thanks to Comcast SportsNet Bay Area's Matt Maiocco, one of the best and most thorough beat writers covering the NFL, we have an inside look at why Harbaugh made a huge gamble that changed the course of the entire season.

Maiocco wrote about he entire process of the San Francisco 49ers changing quarterbacks, all the way back to a great story about Harbaugh being a little competitive on his pre-draft visit with Kaepernick.

According to the CSN Bay Area story, after Harbaugh had seen Kaepernick make all the necessary throws during the workout at University of Nevada-Reno, the former NFL quarterback wanted to really test the prospect, so he challenged him to a passing competition.

"I think the first thing that came to mind, No. 1, was the energy he brought," Kaepernick said, according to CSN Bay Area. "He was running all over the place and throwing the football around. It was a competition to see who could throw the most perfect spirals to each other, to see who could be the most accurate throwing through the goal posts from different spots."

Apparently Kaepernick passed the test, because the 49ers were sold. They traded up to draft Kaepernick in the second round.

And Kaepernick sat for more than a season-and-a-half. He was a raw prospect, and Maiocco wrote "receivers and defensive backs privately said he lacked touch on his throws" in practice when he was a rookie. During training camp this year, defensive players mocked him for not wanting to throw the ball, because he ran at every chance instead. He wasn't yet ready, and the story said Harbaugh didn't plan to make the change from Smith to Kaepernick this season. But the injury gave the team a chance to see its quarterback of the future, and after he played well in his first start against the Bears, it was clear how much potential Kaepernick had.

The story includes 49ers CEO Jed York recounting a conversation he had with Harbaugh before he permanently made the move.

"Just popping in to see how he's doing," York said according to CSN Bay Area, "and asking him, 'What's your gut?' And he said, 'My gut's Kap.' OK. You could argue it either way. He's the head coach. He has to live with the decisions he makes and I have to support him. And if you don't support your head coach, you should go find another one. I support Jim 100 percent."

Thanks in large part to a bold move, the 49ers are in the Super Bowl.

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