As he has done for most of the offseason, Gabbert outplayed Kaepernick during Friday’s 21-10 loss to Green Bay, leading the 49ers first team on an impressive touchdown drive during his sparing time on the field.
Gabbert finished the night after two drives, completing two of his three attempts for 14 yards and a touchdown on Friday, while looking to have a strong command of Kelly’s offense in what might be his last preseason showing.
Much of Kaepernick’s struggles Friday — where he completed just 2-of-6 passes for 14 yards — could be attributed to rust from his prolonged absence from the field. But with just one preseason game left, and an uninspiring effort on Friday, his time to edge Gabbert out of his starting role is running low.
On their second trip to the turf, Gabbert led the offense to bounce back from an unimpressive three-and-out opening drive by playing to their strengths on a 53-yard scoring drive.
Gabbert, as he’s accustomed to doing, looked to his tight end Garrett Celek early for consecutive catches to move the chains. A spry Carlos Hyde would then add his biggest rush of the preseason, a 27-yard gain to the left hand side, before a three yard screen to receiver Quinton Patton that put the 49ers on the board first with a 7-0 lead.
With Gabbert looking like the presumptive starter to open the season against Los Angeles, it’s probable that he’s played his final snap of the preseason. Gabbert was pleased with the case he made for himself in his three outings:
“We’ve scored points when I’ve been there. It’s the preseason so you’re not going to play the entire game, you just try to make the most of your opportunities when you’re in there. But for the most part the ball has been delivered on time. We’ve been inconsistent at times, but we’ve kind of got a little picture of what we can do.”
Following a long and arduous scoring drive by the Green Bay Packers, Kaepernick saw his first action of the preseason, much to the delight of the Levi’s Stadium crowd.
After missing the first two games on the schedule with “dead arm,” Kaepernick looked poised to show he was beyond any lingering issues, as he aired the ball out on five of the 49ers six plays during his first trip on the field.
He didn’t show much.
Kaepernick hooked up with McDonald and reciever DeAndrew White, whose athletic 12-yard reception handed the 49ers their fifth first-down of the night.
But his drive would stall short well before midfield.
The rust from a long layover began to surface on Kaepernick’s second series, as a ill-advised keep on a zone read led to a three yard loss to begin the drive.
Kaepernick’s second batted pass would give the 49ers a third and long before a ten yard brought out punter Bradley Pinion.
A charging Green Bay defense showed him no mercy as he looked to adapt to the pace of the NFL, forcing Kaepernick to tuck the ball three out of the last six plays at the conclusion of his second three-and-out that netted just eight yards.
The brief drive ended Kaepernick’s night, and potentially his bid to open the season under center, in shotgun with an adaptation of the pistol, or anywhere besides the 49ers bench.
Despite his poor outing, Kelly refused to concede that the quarterback race was over, stating that tonight was still part of an ongoing evaluation process before a final decision will be made.
“We’re gonna evaluate this like we’ve always said we were gonna evaluate this. Our goal today was to see if we could get even amount of snaps for those guys with the ones and that’s what we were looking for.”
Many have written off any notion of Kaepernick starting the season under center, but the sixth-year veteran believes he is still in the race despite his showing on Friday:
“That’s really up to Chip and the coaching staff, but in my mind I think I can go out and win it.”
Kaepernick said that he felt comfortable with his reads and progressions, but stated that the team’s struggles on early down’s may have lead to his lackluster performance.
He noted, though, that there’s room for personal improvement in his next showing:
“I think next game I have to be more productive, put points on the board. Ultimately that’s what you want to do as an offense and as a quarterback, so I think that will be a big thing for next week.”
Others stepping up
Without starters NaVorro Bowman, Arik Armstead and Ahmad Brooks to anchor the unit, the 49ers defense fielded a stiff challenge in trying to curb the offensive wizardry of former Cal Bears and current Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.
They responded with another impressive effort, limiting Rodgers to 60-yards on six-of-nine passing while surrendering just one touchdown on a six yard touchdown to wide out Randall Cobb in the second quarter.
Bowman’s absence from the lineup offered an extended look at the inside linebacker competition, where contenders Michael Wilhoite, Gerald Hodges and Ray-Ray Armstrong all took snaps with the first-team defense.
Green Bay attacked the middle of the field strongly with tight end Jared Cook, testing the group’s ability to cover. Armstrong was burned by Cook for a 19-yard reception, but rebounded strongly with a pass breakup and a stuff of running back James Starks to post an impressive showing.
Wilhoite finished the night with a team-high seven tackles.
Brooks’ absence led to another interesting play from Kelly, as Tank Carradine saw time with the first-team defense at the outside linebacker position — where he provided strong pressure as a push rusher against the Green Bay line.
After failing to find the field as a defensive end under both Jim Harbaugh and Jim Tomsula, Carradine’s change into a true outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil’s 3-4 scheme may be paying off. The fourth-year pro finished Friday’s contest with two tackles, including a sack and tackle for loss.
With Zane Beadle’s holding his role along the left side of the line, the 49ers now have to decide on how — or if — first-round pick Joshua Garnett will see playing time this year.