It's on Harbaugh to turn new QB into winner

Jim Druckenmiller was a resounding failure. Alex Smith has earned consideration along the very same lines. What makes the 49ers think it'll be different this time around with Colin Kaepernick, another QB acquired with a high draft pick that comes to the team unpolished and unproven in a pro-style offense? Well, he has Jim Harbaugh coaching him, and that should make all the difference in the world.

Harbaugh officially attached his coaching carriage and reputation to Kaepernick on Friday, when the 49ers surrendered three draft picks to move up to the No. 36 slot in the second round to take the University of Nevada prospect to become the project that Harbaugh will turn into San Francisco's quarterback of the future, something the 49ers have been looking for in the draft all the way back to when they wasted a first-round pick on Druckenmiller in 1997.

It will be up to Harbaugh now to make sure Kaepernick isn't another wasted pick that will only set back the franchise's progress again, like when the 49ers used the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft to take Smith, who six seasons later still looks like a quarterback just good enough to get a team beat more times than not.

Harbaugh looked pretty comfortable standing next to the tall and sturdy Kaepernick when the youngster was introduced by the team Friday night, but the seat the new coach sits on will only get warmer from here on out during the development of Kaepernick, particularly if he doesn't turn into the quarterback the team wants and needs him to become.

But that's where Kaepernick has a huge advantage over Smith, the last highly-drafted great hope to be San Francisco's next franchise quarterback.

He has Harbaugh as his head coach. Smith had Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary. Let's just say neither of those Mikes really had much of a clue how to handle, develop or nurture a quarterback, or make one into a winner at the position.

It will be much different for Kaepernick, whose makeup, skills and athleticism give him tremendous potential to both thrive and succeed in the variation of the West Coast Offense Harbaugh wants to run.

Remember the kind of quarterback Bill Walsh was able to mold with a third-round pick in a similar situation way back when? Kaepernick has a similar makeup to Joe Montana, only he's bigger, faster, more athletic and has a better arm.

But there's a long, long way from here to making Kaepernick into a quarterback who will approach the results and success of Montana, who had that very special "it" that is required of big-time winners at the highest level.

Druckenmiller never had it, that's for sure. The 49ers took him with the No. 26 overall pick in 1997 with the plan that he would eventually replace Steve Young and follow in the team's glorious Montana-Young tradition. But that plan was doomed from the start.

Even with a decent quarterback-handler such as Steve Mariucci as his head coach, the knuckleheaded, unrefined Druckenmiller never came close to developing into even a mediocre NFL quarterback.

Since then, the 49ers have spent eight draft picks on quarterbacks, with only Smith being selected higher than Kaepernick. Behind Smith and Druckenmiller, Kaepernick is the 49ers' third-highest drafted quarterback since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.

Smith possesses a lot of physical and mental tools to succeed at the position, but look where that has gotten him. By now it is pretty clear he simply doesn't have the "it," or at least hasn't played for a coach who could bring it out in him.

There's a pretty decent chance that "it" is somewhere deep inside of Kaepernick. If anybody can bring it out, it is quarterback-whisperer Harbaugh, which gives Kaepernick the fighting Chance Smith never had.

"I think this is a perfect situation for me," Kaepernick said. "For me, I think I fit coach Harbaugh's offense well, their style of play."

But at this very moment, that would be strictly projection and conjecture. While putting up video-game numbers at Nevada, Kaepernick played in a college-friendly "Pistol" offense, where he worked in a shotgun-formation, triple-option attack. That's a long way from the pro-style offense he'll be running with the 49ers.

"There are many attributes that you look for in a quarterback that Colin possesses," Harbaugh said. "You hear talk about Colin being a developmental-type quarterback. That goes for all quarterbacks. That is every quarterback that goes from college to the National Football League. So he's no different."

The difference here is Harbaugh. He's here to develop a quarterback that will finally turn the 49ers into winners again, and Friday's selection of Kaepernick means Kaepernick is that quarterback.

If Harbaugh can't bring that out in Kaepernick after the 49ers essentially invested their future in the QB, as they also did months before in the coach, then expect both men to ultimately fail with the 49ers, like their predecessors did before them.


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