Gabbert needs to prove his worth against Dallas

At the start of the 49ers’ season, it seemed Blaine Gabbert should easily be the 49ers starting quarterback.

It wasn’t so much that 2016 was going to be the year that the former 10th overall pick might finally live up to his draft stock. Gabbert just seemed like the person who could keep the 49ers’ ship steady for one more year, at least until a better choice came along.

It doesn’t look that way through three games, though, with the 49ers a glum 1-2 and Gabbert underachieving once again.

And if he can’t turn in a noteworthy performance against Dallas this Sunday, a betting man should wager that Chip Kelly might start pondering a switch.

To play devil’s advocate, Gabbert hasn’t exactly had an easy schedule to start his year. He’s faced a top-5 pass defense, Carolina and Seattle, in two out of his three starts, and Los Angeles is no pushover either.

But if Gabbert can’t move the ball against a generally unremarkable Dallas secondary that’s allowing 288.3 yards per game through the air, then his time at the helm should be coming to a close.

Questions pertaining to Colin Kaepernick this week have been less about his prolific social justice protest, and more about his readiness to potentially assume the starter role in San Francisco again. And for good reason.

Gabbert has largely failed to cement himself as the 49ers’ starter moving forward. He ranks 27th in passing yardage in the NFL, completing just 55.2 percent of his attempts.

More worryingly, Gabbert is averaging a measly 5.5 yards per game, and it seems more and more apparent that Kelly is unwilling to dial up any deep-passes for Gabbert, despite having speedster Torrey Smith on the outside. Again, this is for good reason.

According to ProFootballFocus’s Jeff Deeney, Gabbert is completing just 38.2 percent of his passing attempts on balls more than 10-yards down the field. The offenses’ inability to pick up big gains through the air was on full display last week as third-down passes continually came up short of the sticks.

But despite all the obvious signs, Kelly stated on Wednesday that he wasn’t ready to cede Gabbert as his starter

“I think he’s running our offense well. I think our offense itself, and a lot of times if we’re not having success on offense, it’s all blamed on Blaine. But, if we need to run the ball better, that’s not Blaine’s fault we’re not running the ball better. … If it was on one guy, that would be an easy fix. But, it’s not on one guy and that’s why we feel real confident with him moving forward.”

I’m under the opinion that this is all just coach speak, similar to how Jim Tomsula supported Kaepernick last year-right up the point when he decided to start Gabbert.

In the front office, Gabbert is general manager Trent Baalke’s guy, and Kelly has had interest in seeing what Kaepernick can do in his offense. But at the moment, Kelly doesn’t believe Kaepernick is physically ready to take the field.

After slimming down heavily due to a grueling rehab schedule and new diet, Kelly stated that he’d like to see Kaepernick regain some of his muscle before he gives him consideration to sit at the helm of the team.

“If you ask me where he is, he’s not where he was in 2013. That’s the only thing I’m pointing out. So, he’s not 100-percent back from the recovery standpoint. He’s 100-percent healed from those injuries. So, that allows him to play in the game, but is he the same player that he was when he was running 4.5 and throwing the ball all over the place? He’s not that guy right now because he’s not where he was physically.”

But if Gabbert turns in another dud on Sunday, it will be harder and harder to justify keeping Kaepernick on the sideline, regardless of his weight or Baalke’s insistence.

Sunday may be even more frustrating for San Francisco if the Cowboys’ quarterback, Dak Prescott, outplays Gabbert as well.

San Francisco was in position to take Prescott in the fourth-round of this year’s draft, but chose cornerback Rashard Robinson two picks before Dallas snagged him with the 135th overall selection.

Prescott has been off to an impressive start to his rookie campaign replacing the injured Tony Romo, completing 66 passes for 767 yards and a 93.3 passer rating.

Things may be a bit tougher on the rookie as Dallas looks to be without top wideout Dez Bryant this week, but while San Francisco is struggling to find a competent starter to finish out the season, the Cowboys may be trotting out their star of the future.


Shawn Whelchel is SFBay’s San Francisco 49ers beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of 49ers football.