SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- If it’s foolhardy to say Blaine Gabbert is converting non-believers across the NFL, it’s fair to say the new San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback is gaining fans in his locker room.
In fact, his Niners teammates are talking about Gabbert and his play in ways they did not describe Colin Kaepernick. At least not lately.
“He’s been in the league for a while, and I’m a big guy of when you get your second chance, you take advantage of it. And I think he’s doing that.”
Gabbert, the No. 10 overall pick of the 2011 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, flamed out badly in Florida. As a result, the Jags traded him after just 27 starts to the Niners in the 2014 offseason for a sixth-round draft pick.
He struggled in his first preseason with the Niners before showing flashes this past exhibition season. And when Kaepernick was benched after eight games, Gabbert was ready.
In three starts, the Niners are just 1-2 under Gabbert, but he has been impressive in losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Cardinals. Against Arizona, Gabbert passed for a career-high 318 yards -- his second career 300-yard passing game -- while completing 25 of 36 attempts with a touchdown pass and an interception for a QB rating of 94.4.
“Hey, I’m just taking it one game at a time,” Gabbert said. “Confidence is key in this profession. If you don’t step on that field with that confident mindset, you’re not going to play well. And so, I try and put my best foot forward day in and day out throughout the week of practice so I can go out there and be confident in our team, myself and go out there and win football games.”
Kaepernick made similar statements. But this season, whenever teammates were asked about him, they spoke in general terms of Kaepernick’s work ethic, or how hard he was working at his craft, or the time he was putting in the weight room.
“He’s a heck of a quarterback,” receiver Anquan Boldin said. “You guys see it. He’s poised, he’s under control. He has a good control of the offense. He understands where to go with the ball. He understands when he’s hot, when he needs to get rid of it. He’s playing really well for us right now.
“He has everybody fighting for him. Everybody is comfortable with him being behind center. Guys are making plays for him, blocking their butts off. Receivers are getting open and catching the ball. We’re all behind him.”
While Kaepernick seemed to struggle mightily in identifying coverages and progressing through his reads toward the end of his run, Gabbert seems to be excelling in those aspects.
“Protections and getting us in and out of runs, all of those things,” coach Jim Tomsula said. “I guess when I say, using your brain, arm and your feet.”
Granted, it’s a much smaller sample size, but Gabbert looks more poised in the pocket than his predecessor.
Consider: Gabbert’s completion percentage when pressured thus far this season is 72.4 percent while Kaepernick’s was 35.2 percent, per Pro Football Focus research.
And while Kaepernick was sacked 24.1 percent of the time he was pressured this season, Gabbert has been sacked just 10 percent of the time he has been pressured in his three games.
In fact, Gabbert gets rid of the ball faster, averaging 2.39 seconds from snap to attempted pass (not counting sacks or scrambles), compared with Kaepernick’s 2.55-second average on the same types of plays.
And while Gabbert has now thrown a TD pass in three straight games, Kaepernick did not have a passing TD streak of more than two games in his eight starts.
“Blaine played awesome,” receiver Torrey Smith said. “The plays that he made, he was able to showcase his skills and prove that he belongs in this league.
“Blaine can play ball. I am just glad that he can go out there and prove it, but we need to get some wins to show for it.”