Blaine Gabbert has been in this position before.
Taking over for a struggling veteran quarterback after poor play saw him promoted from his bench role during the regular season. Working as the starter of a team struggling to mount any sort of offense. Having the doubt of pundits and fans alike.
These are all things that Gabbert was exposed to when he was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2011 NFL draft. Gabbert flopped in his rookie campaign, leading the Jaguars to a 5-11 record in 14 starts, while slinging his way to the league’s 28th ranked scoring offense.
But as he prepares to make his first start as a member of the 49ers on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, Gabbert will have two things aiding him when he takes to the turf of Levi’s Studium — five years of veteran experience and a lack of expectations.
On Wednesday afternoon, the lead signal-caller spoke about how his time on the sidelines has advanced his game and allowed him to work his way back into the spotlight:
“I would say more mature. Being 25, actually 26 now, time flies, but when I got in the league as a 21-year-old, you haven’t seen really anything. And going into my fifth year, just the experiences that I’ve had preparing for games, playing in games, starting games, being a back up quarterback. It’s valuable over time to have those repetitions in practice and on the game field.”
Gabbert’s last career start came as a member of the Jaguars on October 6,2013 in a 34-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams. He completed 9-of-19 passes for 181 yards and one touchdown in his final start as a member of the Jaguars. Gabbert also threw two interceptions on the night.
The 49ers current offensive make-up projects to make things no easier for the 26-year old veteran in his return to action, as an injury-plagued starting unit and a porous offensive line will make for a rough welcome back party for Gabbert.
Luckily for Gabbert, he’s well versed in working with a poor offense.
“We’re going through a little rough patch here and I’ve been through plenty of those in Jacksonville, and the biggest thing that we have to focus on is just sticking to our routine. Sticking to our guns. Going out and having great practices and carrying over that practice to the game. That’s the biggest thing that we’re striving towards right now because we’re putting together great practices. We’re preparing very well. Our coaches are doing a great job giving us the right looks, but what we’ve got to do is take that into the game and lately, we have not been doing that.”
Gabbert will have to be at the top of his game on Sunday, as he looks to lead a 49ers offense that will likely be without some of their biggest playmakers in RB Carlos Hyde, WR Anquan Boldin and TE Vernon Davis-who was shipped to Denver in a trade on Monday.
But while he hasn’t seen meaningful action since the preseason, Gabbert’s practice reps have apparently inspired coach Jim Tomsula, who took full responsibility in orchestrating the change at quarterback.
“Blaine’s been here for two years and I’ve watched Blaine get better every day. I’ve watched the way he goes about his business. I’ve watched the balls that he throws. I’ve watched how he practices. I watch his seriousness in the way he’s prepared every week since he’s been here and he’s a competitive guy.”
Kaepernick has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff after leading the 49ers to a 2-6 record on the year, while being on pace for season lows in nearly all categories.
Kaepernick has assumed the brunt of the blame for a struggling offense that has been plagued by poor offensive line play and suspect play-calling all year.
And while it appears that Kaepernick is the first casualty of the franchise-wide failure to move the ball, Tomsula was quick in deflecting the entirety of the team’s offensive struggles onto the fifth-year quarterback.
“We all own it. That position gets way more credit than it should when you win and it gets way more junk than it should when you lose. It’s just that pile, it just keeps getting bigger and I just want him out of there.”
Tomsula wouldn’t appoint Gabbert the starter moving forward indefinitely, instead preferring to focus on the immediate match with Atlanta. The remarks leave forward a possible return to action for Kaepernick, although his relationship with the franchise is sure to be strained over the turn of events.
Sunday’s game will be an interesting look at what the 49ers plan to do at the quarterback position for this year and beyond. But until then, here’s something to help you get ready for your new starting quarterback of the 49ers.