NEW ORLEANS -- To prepare for the tough task ahead of them, the Baltimore Ravens have asked a pair of reserves to start Kaepernicking.
Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor and practice squad member Dennis Dixon, a Bay Area native, are imitating Colin Kaepernick's dual-threat style in practice this week, and in a boon for the Ravens, both quarterbacks are about as well-equipped for the task as it gets among NFL signal-callers. While neither can match Kaepernick's size or arm strength, both are threats with their legs and perfect fits for the read-option scheme the 49ers so often rely on.
"Me and Tyrod are both fortunate that we are able to do that, give that dual-threat look for our defense," Dixon said. "We still have a couple more work days, and what question marks the defense may have, I'm going to try to exploit them and make the most of it."
The Ravens are making the most of a fortuitous situation. No team in the NFL has a set of backups that can mirror Kaepernick's unique abilities as closely as Taylor and Dixon can during practice. The 6-foot-1 Taylor is in his second year out of Virginia Tech, where he set school records for total offense and career rushing yards by a quarterback (2,196). He worked out with Kaepernick at the Competitive Edge Sports training facility in Atlanta before the 2011 NFL Draft, and was the only quarterback at the combine to record a faster 40 time (4.51) than Kaepernick (4.53).
"I believe I'm faster," Taylor said, smiling. "Mobile guys like (Kaepernick) can extend plays and my job this week is to prepare our defense for that. You're trying to challenge them."
Dixon has the same task, and it's one the former San Leandro High standout is well prepared for. An Oakland native (and lifelong Raiders fan), Dixon rushed for 1,208 yards in his final season running Chip Kelly's high-octane spread offense at Oregon and was one the Ducks' all-time leading passers.
"It's something I did in college as far as the zone read," Dixon said. "The main thing about (Kaepernick) is he can throw the ball as well, and I'm trying to do the exact same thing practice. It's a chess match. Sometimes we're going to win and sometimes we're going to lose."
Dixon, who already has a Super Bowl ring from his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers, has drawn raves from a defense that hopes to bring a title back to Baltimore.
"That guy, he's doing an amazing job," cornerback Corey Graham said. "Obviously, he ran that offense at Oregon. He knows it, and he's done a great job preparing us to get ready for this game. We had an opportunity to make those mistakes in practice that hopefully we won't make in the game."
John Harbaugh called Dixon "very valuable for us," last week, and both Dixon and Taylor are hoping that others are taking note of their ability to run read-option schemes. Both QB's impersonated Robert Griffin III before a game against the Washington Redskins in December, and their value could increase as the NFL moves toward pistol and read-option offenses and athletic quarterbacks like Kaepernick and Griffin.
Dixon could get his chance to leave the practice field as soon as next week. According to reports out of Philadelphia, Dixon is expected to join Kelly and the Eagles after the Ravens' run comes to an end.
Taylor, a second-year backup to Joe Flacco, is keeping a close eye on the shift in philosophy.
"It's definitely moving in that direction with guys who can extend plays and get away from defenses, which are getting faster," he said. "You have to be able to give a little twist to the defense. It can move that way and I hope it does."
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