Entering last summer’s training camp, Colin Kaepernick had a fairly firm hold on the San Francisco Forty-Niners’ starting quarterback gig following two straight seasons of worthy production. The team itself hadn’t done very well during a mediocre 8-8 2014, but Kaepernick wasn’t in any real danger of losing his day job.
While it’s only a year later, Kaepernick now finds himself in a much different situation. Limited by injuries to his shoulder, thumb, and knee, Kaepernick struggled through much of last season and finished well below everyone’s expectations. Now, he’ll have to earn his job back by battling Blaine Gabbert for the position’s top spot, and nobody on San Francisco’s staff wants to name an early favorite. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t one.
On the opening day of Forty-Niners’ training camp, new head coach Chip Kelly told reporters that he and his staff are going to take their time before choosing the quarterback who’s going to guide his fast-paced offense.
”I think sometimes if you put a preconceived date on it, it’s not fair,” said Kelly via ESPN. ”I’ve been in them before. Obviously, you’d like to get it done sooner rather than later. But, you don’t want to get it done sooner and then make the wrong decision.”
There’s a good reason for the Forty-Niners’ current situation under center—and it has very little to do with injuries. After the first four weeks of last season, Kaepernick had guided San Francisco to a dismal 1-3 start while throwing only two touchdowns and surpassing the 200-yard plateau just once. Where was the quarterback that NFL greats had previously labelled as a potential-heavy star who could become the best of all time?
It wasn’t too difficult to answer that question in Kaepernick’s case, and although his numbers were obviously unacceptable, one look at the team’s roster revealed the truth. San Francisco didn’t give Kaepernick much to work with in terms of dependable targets, and the Niners had begun to stray from the run-and-gun approach employed during his rise in favor of an offense better suited to a pocket-passer—his exact quarterback opposite.
So, by the time that San Francisco had decided to demote its star signal-caller last November, the idea of giving Gabbert the second chance of a lifetime didn’t seem completely insane. Before becoming a backup for the Forty-Niners in 2014, Gabbert struggled through the first season and-a-half of his pro career as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ starting quarterback until losing his job midway through the 2012 regular season, starting only three more games before being shipped out of town for a late-round draft pick.
But Gabbert quickly took advantage of an opportunity that so few quarterbacks get after falling flat on their NFL faces, leading San Francisco to a badly-needed victory over Atlanta in his first start in more than two years on his way to finishing the 2015 campaign with 2,031 yards for ten touchdowns and seven interceptions.
It wasn’t Pro-Bowl production by any stretch of the imagination, but Gabbert’s performance over the final eight games of the season was enough to convince the team that it could afford to trade Kaepernick during the off-season. But a lack of legitimate interest, coupled with Kelly’s arrival, have brought San Francisco’s former starter back into the mix.
Due to injuries, Kelly hadn’t even seen Kaepernick play with the rest of the offense until the first day of training camp. But despite promising to equally split first team reps during camp in order to see how both operate his offense, Kelly seemed as though he’d already zeroed-in on one of the quarterback candidates while speaking to the media on Sunday.
”I haven’t seen him [Kaepernick] full physically, but mentally, the one thing that impressed me was how sharp he was in staying on top of everything,” said Kelly via ESPN. ”As I said, he was in every single meeting asking really, really intelligent questions. He seems like he picked things up fairly quickly.”
”If you watched him, and anybody that was here in the spring time, he stood directly behind the quarterback, whoever was in, and took snaps and was getting mental reps and there was a lot of times where I probably had more interactions with Kap than I did with the other quarterbacks, because I’m back there talking to him,” added Kelly.
While Kelly’s comments may warm the hearts of those who support Kaepernick, it’s going to take some time for fans see any actual on-field results with this team’s receiving corps. Of the 12 wide receivers currently listed on San Fran’s roster, three are rookies, six have between one and three years of NFL experience, and seven-year veteran Torrey Smith is probably the only one you’ve ever heard of.
But somebody has to throw the ball to San Francisco’s collection of question marks at wide receiver this season, and despite claiming otherwise, it sounds like Kelly and his staff may have already made their decision to go with Kaepernick.
[Photo by Michael B. Thompson/Getty Images]