Monday, October 1, 2012

The CK7 Project

Far away from the view of spectators there is an interesting project taking place at 49ers Headquarters in Santa Clara.  Many of the specifics have been kept secret from those trying to gather any information, however there have been several short glimpses as to what is taking place and how it is coming together.  It is known as the CK7 Project.

When the 49ers traded up in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft to select Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick there were many who wondered how a quarterback from a spread/Pistol offense would fit into the offensive scheme of Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman.  Their offense is one that is currently known for it's balanced, run/pass oriented attack, featuring short passes.  To understand where Kaepernick fits in, one needs to take a step back and look at Harbaugh's coaching history at Stanford.

While on the recruiting trail trying to convince Andrew Luck to come to Stanford, Harbaugh also had his eyes on another QB recruit by the name of Robert Griffin III, the same RGIII that would choose Baylor over Stanford, and go on to win the 2011 Heisman Trophy.  Harbaugh liked everything he saw in Griffin, a strong armed and athletic quarterback who was a leader, and he saw many of those same aspects in Kaepernick's game while preparing for the draft.

Three years prior to Jim Harbaugh becoming the Head Coach in San Francisco, his older brother John Harbaugh drafted a strong armed QB prior to his first season at the helm of the Ravens, Joe Flacco.  With no experienced quarterback on the roster John was forced to start the rookie.  By relying on a solid running game, and one of the best defenses in the NFL, they managed to go 11-5, ending up 1 game short of the Super Bowl with a 23-14 defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  John Harbaugh continued to utilize an offense that featured a strong running game over the next 3 seasons while Flacco continued to grow into the role of NFL QB.

The additions of Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith provided the Ravens with a solid veteran possession receiver and a young speedster to stretch the field, while Dennis Pitta has proven to be a solid TE option.  Bolstered by the memory of those frustrating playoff losses and realizing the need for a strong passing game to get over that final hurdle, Harbaugh has turned Flacco and his offensive weapons loose in 2012.  Through the first 4 games of the season Flacco has averaged over 300 yards passing, while leading the league in pass attempts of 20+ yards with 22.

Why all the discussion of recent Ravens history in a piece about the 49ers you ask?  Jim Harbaugh watched the trials of his older brother, and realized the need to be able to stretch the field and push the ball down the field in the passing game.  Unlike his brother, there was a veteran QB nearby that he was able to coax back to the team, a major help given the NFL lockout, which forced teams to not bring their players in for workouts until the lockout was lifted, 5 short weeks prior to the start of the 2011 season.

The presence of Alex Smith is a major part of the CK7 Project.  His presence has allowed Coach Harbaugh to bring the CK7 project along slowly.  Spectators received only a fleeting glimpse of CK7 in 2011, as he participated in only 5 plays during a season in which Smith led the team to within 1 step of the Super Bowl, just as Flacco had done in Baltimore three years prior.

Heading into the 2012 season, Coach Harbaugh added Mario Manningham via Free Agency, a speedy wideout who plays his best outside the numbers, and drafted another speedy wideout with his 1st round draft pick in AJ Jenkins.  In addition, he added the speedy and shifty LaMichael James to the mix in the 2nd round.

Along with veteran wideout Michael Crabtree and all world TE Vernon Davis the stage is being set for the CK7 project to take full flight. While many will point to Bo Schembechler as Harbaugh's primary mentor, 49er fans need to keep an eye on what is taking place in Baltimore.  That is the direction in which this team is heading, and the CK7 project is an integral piece of making sure that it gets there.

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