Every time Kordell Stewart sees Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers, he puffs his chest out just a little bit.
After starting the last seven regular-season games when he took over for Alex Smith, Kaepernick has won two playoff games to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years. They play the Ravens on Feb. 3 in New Orleans.
“You have quarterbacks 6-4, 6-5 running the same way I did,” said Stewart, who is a shade under 6-2 and now co-hosts an afternoon talk radio show –- The Game on 92.9 FM -- in Atlanta. “Until you see it up close, that type of speed, you don’t know what you’re walking into. He’s one of these skateboard-type kids who don’t have the mind-set of being consumed of what just happened. Let me go jump on this railing one more time and bust my butt because I’m going to get it right. It’s like he’s that new era.”
An NFL quarterback who can run and throw the deep ball? When Stewart was a second-round draft pick in 1995 by the Pittsburgh Steelers, he had to be one or the other. He couldn't be both.
Playing behind Neil O’Donnell, Stewart shifted to receiver in his first two seasons. In his first year as the starting quarterback, Stewart led the Steelers to 11-5 but lost in the AFC championship game.
Stewart, who was called "Slash" for his ability to play multiple positions that included punter, would lose his starting job but regain it in 2000. His best season was 2001, leading Pittsburgh to 13-3, throwing for more than 3,000 yards, 14 TDs passing, 5 rushing and a Pro Bowl selection. His career was a yo-yo, including with the Ravens from 2004-05, as NFL coaches saw Stewart’s style as a gimmick, much like it was assumed about the read-option run by Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins.
It’s not as simple as putting hits on Kaepernick to change the tide. The Ravens, who held Griffin to 34 yards rushing and knocked him out of the game in the fourth quarter when the teams met in Week 14, are facing a different beast with the 49ers.
“They have to catch him slipping. They protect him by running that option stuff. It’s not something where a (defensive) guy is coming down the line of scrimmage bearing down on him because they’re stretching it all the way out,” Stewart said. “By the time he pulls it, he’s (running) to the next level. There’s no such thing as pitching. He rides it.
“And guess what happens when Kaepernick sees the defense declare early against the run? That’s when that boy going to stick it up in there (with the pass). Somebody is going to come down full speed, a receiver is going to double move and touchdown. I’m telling you, you cannot cover that.
“If the Ravens think they’re going to get to this young boy, they got another damn thing coming.”
It’s more than the read-option quarterbacks who can run effectively. A lot of NFL signal-callers are more versatile and don't fit the traditional drop-back passing mold like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
“Anybody can throw. These (young) guys are passers. Kaepernick can run, but he’s a passer,” Stewart said. “(Colts QB) Andrew Luck, he’s a runner but he’s also a passer. (Packers QB) Aaron Rogers? He can run, but he’s a passer. I’m not talking black quarterbacks. I’m talking all quarterbacks.”
Smith went down with a concussion in Week 10. Kaepernick filled in so well that he was given the starting job even though Smith was cleared to play again within two weeks. Smith led the 49ers to the NFC title game last year, when they the lost to the New York Giants. The dynamic Kaepernick brings takes them to another level, and he got the 49ers there because of his unique skill-set.
“How I changed the game, in my era, how hard it was for me to play, it’s now appreciated. For me, it’s been gratifying,” Stewart said. “I honestly can tell you, to see this young man play, RG3, Russell Wilson (Seahawks), the work is done. My style has been accepted in the National Football League. I’m happy.”