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49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) ran away from Vikings defenders for 78 yard touchdown in the second quarter of a preseason game.

Carlos Gonzalez, Dml - Star Tribune

Craig: Long preseason run against Vikings started Kaepernick's rise

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG
  • Star Tribune
  • January 30, 2013 - 6:59 PM

NEW ORLEANS - It's still too early to tell if Colin Kaeper-nick, the "pistol" offense and the read-option play will thrive beyond its current 15 minutes of Super Bowl-caliber fame.

But if it does, here's a trivia question that would become historically interesting in about a decade:

Which NFL team got the first bitter taste of Kaepernick's extraordinary read-option running skills?

Answer: Your Minnesota Vikings.

"That was the first one I broke," Kaepernick said Tuesday about his 78-yard touchdown run against the Vikings in Week 1 of the 2012 preseason. "The first one in the pros, at least."

Kaepernick had done it several times at Nevada before the 49ers made him the 36th overall draft pick in 2011. But he wasn't -- and still isn't -- supposed to be doing it so successfully through nine starts at the NFL level. His 10th start comes Sunday against the Ravens at the Superdome in Super Bowl XLVII.

"We knew he could do it before that preseason game," 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "We saw him do it in practice before. That night, the Vikings found out about it, too."

Actually, the world found out. Only the world didn't really care at the time. It was a preseason game. The Vikings were playing without Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield. And Kaep- ernick was merely a backup fighting off Scott Tolzien for the right to be No. 2 behind Alex Smith. Tolzien probably played Kaepernick to a draw, completing 10 of 13 passes that night.

In three games as a rookie, Kaepernick had run the ball only twice. And gained minus-2 yards.

Yet there he was in that 2012 preseason opener. There he was sticking the football into the midsection of LaMichael James and then reading the defensive end pinching closer. There he was pulling that ball out of James' midsection and running around the end and unleashing all this pent-up speed. There he was outrunning some defenders and bouncing off others.

"What was I thinking?" asked Rogers, repeating the question. "I was thinking that nobody from Minnesota was going to catch him. That dude can fly."

No one from Minnesota could catch him. But neither could players from a lot of teams, including the Packers, who were completely baffled by the read-option when they allowed Kaepernick to rush for 181 yards -- a league record for a quarterback in any game -- in a NFC divisional playoff loss.

"That run [against the Vikings] was just a great example of the explosiveness of what Colin brings," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "It's something we always felt we had in our back pocket."

No, Kaepernick and the 49ers hadn't tried it in a live NFL situation until that point. But Roman had a good idea the play would work when he called it for Kaepernick against the Vikings.

"We saw it in practice one day," Roman said. "There was a day when we couldn't gain a yard against our defense. So we called it up."

And how'd that go?

"He ran 80 yards for a touchdown," Roman said. "It wasn't a game, but it was during a competitive scrimmage situation."

The 49ers had been careful not to show the pistol or the read-option during Kaepernick's rookie season.

Why?

"Because sometimes you have to be careful not to do something like that until you have to do it or you need to do it," Roman said. "You do it at the right time before people can make wholesale adjustments to him."

But Roman wanted to see it at least once in the preseason. You know, just in case Kaepernick somehow ended up playing later on. And boy did he ever end up playing.

"I didn't think much about that run," said Kaepernick, who ran three times that night for 92 of the 49ers' 260 yards rushing. "At that point, I was just hoping that I was showing enough to get on the field at some point during the season."

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

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