All eyes on Kaepernick 

Three hundred and sixty-five days can feel like a decade in sports.

At this point last year, the football world was on the edge of its seat awaiting the debuts of two rookie quarterbacks: Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

They joined the NFL with plate-shifting expectations and they validated the hype.

Luck set a rookie record for passing yards while leading an Indianapolis Colts team that finished 2-14 the year before into the playoffs.

Griffin introduced the league to the read-option offense while steering the Washington Redskins to their first NFC East title in 13 years.

Both players are yesterday's news.

As Luck and Griffin shined, another young quarterback emerged, dwarfing the star power of both players.

Colin Kaepernick is a transcendent figure: his game, his style, his enigmatic persona.

He was thrust into the spotlight because of the controversy surrounding his takeover and he delivered, leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl.

But can he live up to the expectations that swelled during the offseason as his celebrity exploded? Is there another athlete in history who was asked to bring home a championship during his first full year on the job?

LeBron James received time to grow into shoes. No one told Stephen Strasburg to split the atom in his first 162-game season. Luck and Griffin are just expected to be the best quarterbacks of their generation.

Kaepernick heads into the 2013 season having started only 10 games and his margin of error is razor-thin.

He isn't taking snaps for the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills or Minnesota Vikings. He is the quarterback of 49ers, which means Joe Montana, Steve Young and the legacy of five Vince Lombardi trophies.

After losing in overtime of the NFC Championship Game two seasons ago and coming up short on the last play of the Super Bowl in February, anything shy of a ring will be a colossal disappointment to the fan base this year and the pressure could escalate quickly if the 49ers stumble out of the gates against the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.

But Kaepernick isn't false hype. He's the first quarterback with Young's running ability, Peyton Manning's size and his arm strength is unmatched. The talking heads aren't using hyperbole when they say he could revolutionize the position.

In addition to his athleticism, Kaepernick is a hard worker. He gets after it in the offseason and studies the playbook. He might spend a day at the Playboy mansion every now and again, but he isn't the type of guy who's going to get swallowed up by the nightlife, lost in his own fame. His focus is football.

Still, the NFL is a tough league to own and he's stepping onto the field with a target on his back. Defensive coordinators have had seven months to figure him out. He won't be catching anyone on their heels this year.

Whatever happens, Kaepernick will be the most intriguing player to watch this season and every indication suggests that he will continue to move forward.

Unfortunately, the window of opportunity closes fast nowadays and if he fails to bring home championship No. 6, he might be best remembered for what he couldn't do.

Paul Gackle is a contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at pgackle@sfexaminer.com and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.

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Paul Gackle

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