SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- After a training camp quarterback competition that never really materialized because Colin Kaepernick was working his way back from injury, San Francisco 49ers coach Chip Kelly made the obvious choice in naming Blaine Gabbert his starter.
Of course, whenever a competition takes place, the natural assumption is that the winner will be on a shorter leash than other starters might be. While we have yet to see just how long Kelly and the Niners will go without at least taking a look at Kaepernick in a game situation, it doesn't sound like it will be happening right away.
"He's our starter and I’ve got a lot of confidence in Blaine," Kelly said. "So we're not thinking or talking about not having Blaine in there. It's about everybody on offense playing better right now."
To be sure, there weren't a lot of strong performances on the offense in Sunday's 46-27 loss to the Carolina Panthers. But with the run game flailing against the Panthers' stout front seven, the 49ers could've used some help from Gabbert to loosen things up and create openings in the run game. Gabbert had a couple of bright spots but was also again too inconsistent with his accuracy. He finished 17-of-36 for 234 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
After the loss, Gabbert pointed the finger at himself for not picking up the slack while the run game lacked.
"It’s tough sledding some days and then it's got to be on the quarterback, we have got to make plays in the pass game on the outside and that falls on my shoulders," Gabbert said. "The receivers and I have got to be on the same page throughout the entire game and get the ball down the field, get the perimeter passes going and just get this offense on track."
With one decent performance and one not-so-decent outing under its belt, the options for getting the offense on track must come from inside the Niners locker room. Which means that if Gabbert is unable to start consistently hitting open receivers and chewing up bigger chunks of yards, the drumbeat for Kaepernick to play will grow louder in the coming weeks.
Gabbert was able to have some success in Week 1 against the Rams in part because he made things happen with his legs, but that element was mostly absent against Carolina's more zone-oriented pass drops. Among the 33 quarterbacks to start a game through Monday night, Gabbert ranked 30th in the NFL in passer rating (74.4), 32nd in yards per attempt (5.82), 30th in yards per drop back (5.68) and 31st in completion percentage (54.9).
If Gabbert possessed a longer track record indicating some of those numbers are an anomaly, they wouldn't be worrisome just two games into the season. But Gabbert is a career 56 percent passer who has only once averaged more than 6 yards per attempt in a season. It's not out of the realm of possibility he could improve (getting some help from his receivers, who had their share of drops on Sunday, wouldn't hurt either) but for the most part Gabbert is who he is at this point in his career.
"Like I said, it's about our whole offense getting a rhythm in terms of where we are and what we’re trying to get accomplished," Kelly said. "But we've got confidence in Blaine and I think he's done some really nice things for us.”
The other piece of the quarterback equation is Kaepernick, who doesn't yet seem to be all the way back from his injuries. He reported for training camp below his normal playing weight of 225 pounds. While Kelly doesn't know Kaepernick's exact weight, he's indicated that Kaepernick isn't yet back to where he used to be, though he's making progress.
"It's coming back up and I think he's doing a good job in the weight room, but it's not something that’s going to happen overnight," Kelly said. "You just don't go from where he was to, I think his ideal playing weight when you ask Kaep is about 225. He's not going to get to 225 in a week. If you are, it's not going to be a good 225. You know, it's about building himself back up and getting himself kind of where he feels, and you can see kind of where he's comfortable in terms of being able to play. It's something that he's working extremely hard at.
"He's working extremely hard on that right now and we'll continue to see how he goes and how he develops.”
That development is apparently coming in practice. Kelly said last week that Kaepernick was getting about three of the 12 first-team reps in practice.
"He's done a nice job in practice," Kelly said. "You know, he doesn't get as many reps as we had when we were in preseason camp when everything was split right down the middle because, again, we talk about Blaine, one of the things with Blaine is we need to get him reps so that he's comfortable with that group. So the reps are cut down a little bit for Kaep. But when he's in there, he's doing a nice job."
There's no telling when Kelly would be willing to make a change at quarterback but for now, it remains Gabbert's job to lose.