Colin Kaepernick's regression: Can San Francisco 49ers fix QB?

I have been one of the biggest advocates and admirers of Colin Kaepernick and his brilliant raw abilities. However, as I watch the fifth-year quarterback play, I am reminded of what legendary college coach Jerry Claiborne said to a promising young player: "Son, your potential is going to get me fired."

To be fair, you have to recognize what is going on around Kaepernick to get a sense of what has caused his regression. Just in the latest offseason, the San Francisco 49erslost a plethora of top players to retirement and free agency -- not to mention, former head coach Jim Harbaugh went to coach Big Blue in Michigan.

In 2013, Kaepernick and Russell Wilson were the future of the NFL -- the advent of the athletic quarterback. When it comes to numbers, they appeared to be clones:

» Kaepernick in 2013: 243-for-416 (58.4 percent) for 3,197 yards and 21 touchdowns, with eight interceptions and 39 sacks.

» Wilson in 2013: 257-for-407 (63.1 percent) for 3,357 yards and 26 touchdowns, with nine interceptions and 44 sacks.

It is important to note that both were supported by top-five defenses and the third- and fourth-ranked rushing attacks in the NFL.

Since then, it has been a different story for Kaepernick and his 49ers. No matter how you cut it up -- his last consecutive 16 games, seven games of 2015 projected to a full season, or six starts against NFC West rival Seattle projected into a 16-game season -- it is obvious that Kaepernick is who he is:

» Last 16 games: 270-for-456 (59.2 percent) for 3,108 yards and 14 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions and 58 sacks.

» This year (projected over 16 games): 283-for-462 (61.2 percent) for 3,321 yards and 14 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions and 57 sacks.

» Career vs. Seattle (six games projected over 16): 232-for-440 (52.7 percent) for 2,485 yards and five touchdowns, with 17 interceptions and 59 sacks.

What is worth noting is the number of attempts. Kaepernick hasn't grown as an NFL quarterback, averaging just over 450 attempts a season -- and he's on that same pace this year (462). Compare that to fourth-year Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who averaged more than 600 throws a year over his first three seasons.

On Thursday night, Seattle showed the template that the 49ers will see for the remainder of the season. With that, opponents can get to Kaepernick with just a four-man rush (Seattle had six sacks and occasionally brought just a three-man rush) and play change-up zone behind it. Like a rookie, Kaepernick appears to only be able to throw what he sees. If the defense plays man, he can see the open receiver or, with everyone's back turned to him, he can pull it down and hurt you with the run. But on the flip side, he does not appear to understand protections nor be able to decipher zones and throw into an anticipated area.

So what do the 49ers do?

The only way Kaepernick is going to improve is to put him into a position where he has to throw the ball 34-to-40 times per game. This way, he'll learn from his collective mistakes and develop the skills and vision that a true NFL quarterback has to have to be successful. In "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell), he repeatedly mentions the "10,000 Hour Rule," claiming that the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours.

Make no mistake, this will be a painful "10,000 hours" for the 49ers. He will make mistakes that likely will cost them. But what is that cost? It's likely going to take a 10-6 record to make the playoffs, even as a wild-card team (and in the NFC, it is likely a 10-6 team will stay home like last year's Eagles). So, the 49ers are going to have to start ticking off wins at a high rate. They are 2-5 and have the Rams, Falcons, Seahawks and Cardinals coming up next. Anybody see a rally on the horizon?

The future of this team and the near future of this franchise will depend on the development of Colin Kaepernick. You better keep your eye on that goal.

Follow Brian Billick on Twitter @coachbillick.

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