Colin Kaepernick named Sunday starter for 49ers

The usurper has been usurped. Put another way, Colin Kaepernick has regained his starting quarterback role over the struggling Blaine Gabbert.

The writing had been on the wall following a rough four-game skid for Gabbert and the 49ers, but head coach Chip Kelly confirmed the shakeup Tuesday afternoon, formally announcing Kaepernick as the starter for Sunday’s game against the Bills:

“We’ve had a couple days to kind of digest everything where we are and I think offensively we need to be better and we need to just make a move. It’s not Blaine’s fault, it’s just as a group offensively we need to be better in a lot of ways. So we’re going to see what we can do and make a move here. It was one the only maneuvers we could make based on our depth.”

Gabbert’s job security had been in doubt after a slew of questionable performances earned him a 69.6 passer rating to compliment his 58 percent completion rate through the first five games of the season.

The former starter looked particularly shaky trying to move the ball deep down the field, as overthrows to open receivers and poor chemistry with No. 1 receiver Torrey Smith often resulted in the 49ers being unable to move the chains.

It remains to be seen how Kaepernick will fare in his first start since last November, after then-coach Jim Tomsula benched the former star following a similar string of unproductive starts.

Through the first eight games of 2015, Kaepernick completed just 144 of his 243 attempts for 1,615 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions. His last quarterback rating of 78.5 still sits above that of Gabbert’s current rating.

Kaepernick has seen the field just four more times during regular season play since then, coming in for one incomplete pass attempt before being shelved for the season in 2015, and running consecutive handoffs during the blowout season-opening win against the Los Angeles Rams this year.

Kaepernick’s only somewhat meaningful time this year came during the final preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, in which he completed 11-of-18 passes for 103 yards and no touchdowns in a showing against most of San Diego’s second-string defense.

Kelly had maintained that his reluctance to put Kaepernick on the field was due to the quarterback being undersized after a prolonged rehab schedule following offseason surgery, and rumors of a restructured contract to alleviate Kaepernick’s 2017 injury guarantee surfaced this week as well.

Although Kelly mentioned he knew nothing of any reworked deals regarding Kaepernick’s contract, it appears as if something has sparked the flame that the 49ers needed in order to put the 28-year-old back on the field.

The Bills will be a middle-of-the-pack reintroduction, as Rex Ryan’s squad currently sits 17th in terms of pass defense on the year. They’ve allowed an average of 257 yards per game through the air.

What’s most interesting about the timing of the switch, given Gabbert’s inability to make big gains through the air, is that Buffalo has given up the third most passing plays of 20 yards or more this year, with 20 surrendered.

Even with his diminished frame, Kelly and the 49ers offense may look to see whether Kaepernick’s powerful arm can be more useful in pushing the ball down the field on Sunday.


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.