Quarterback Blaine Gabbert is no stranger to bleak situations. Four years ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars made him the cornerstone of their failed rebuilding plan, and he was out the door not even three years later.
Now Gabbert will take over the NFL’s worst offense for the last-place 49ers, although for how long remains to be seen. Wednesday, coach Jim Tomsula confirmed Gabbert would replace Colin Kaepernick against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, but he was vague about the future.
“Well, it’s this week,” said Tomsula, who said he consulted with his staff and general manager Trent Baalke on the move. “Going into Atlanta, Blaine Gabbert will be our quarterback.”
The reason behind the change is twofold: Attempt to provide a spark for an offense that hasn’t scored a touchdown in 18 days, and allow Kaepernick to step out of the fire and gather himself.
Earlier this season, Kaepernick scoffed at the notion that a brief layoff could be beneficial. Regardless of his role, he said that he would remain committed to the team. He was not available at the media session.
“[Kaepernick] wants to fight through it,” Tomsula said. “He’s going to keep going. His reaction was exactly what I thought it would be. But Colin will be a tremendous teammate. He’ll give everything to this team that he gives, and he’ll keep working hard.”
According to Tomsula, he became convinced that a change was in order after he reviewed films of the 27-6 loss to the Rams in St. Louis last weekend. One sequence might have made up his mind more than any — Torrey Smith waving his arms frantically at one side of the field while Kaepernick was throwing the ball the other way. It was not the first time that happened this season.
“That position gets way more credit than it should when you win and it gets way more junk than it should when you lose,” Tomsula said. “It’s just that pile [of adversity]. It just keeps getting bigger, and I just want him out of there. … It’s just me, what I’m watching, what I’m feeling, and I want him to just step back, keep working.”
At 26, Gabbert has been down this dark road before. After the Jaguars moved up six spots to take him in the first round of the 2011 draft, he could do no better than a 5-22 record and lost his final 10 games. His last victory came against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 23, 2012.
“We’re going through a little rough patch here, and I’ve been through plenty of those in Jacksonville,” Gabbert said. “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.”
While not at Kaepernick’s level as an athlete, Gabbert may be able to provide some of the so-called intangibles that have frequently been absent at the position this season. Such as a rhythm passing offense that can move the chains.
“What I’ve seen here is a guy that’s very confident in the offense,” Smith said. “His confidence goes to that he can make every throw. He’s has been doing a good job in practice over the weeks and even the off-season. He’s still working hard even as of late. We’ll see what he does with this chance.”
“Blaine is very vocal,” said rookie Marcus Martin. “He’ll tell you what he thinks about things. Great leader.”
“Confident is what I would say with Blaine,” Bruce Miller said. “[He’s] determined, a good leader in the huddle and a good commander when he’s under center and calling the plays and making things happen. So I’m excited to see him work.”
While a change at quarterback had been a hot topic for weeks, the move caught at least some teammates off guard.
“Naw, nobody saw it coming. That was a complete surprise, well, for me, honestly,” Martin said. “You know, you just embrace what is done and come in and do your job to the best of your abilities. That’s all you can worry about.”
Said Miller, “I have to say that I was a little bit surprised. With the overall play, I don’t think it’s good enough from any position.”
Now that the quarterback question has been answered for one week at least, the onus will be on those around him to elevate their play.
“It’s not all Kap’s fault. This doesn’t fall 100 percent on Kap,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, at the quarterback position, when things aren’t going well, you’re gonna be the person who that’s going to be evaluated the most and the hardest. It’s on us now to try to continue to grow and see if the change adds a spark. But at the end of the day, you know, we all got to go out and execute. It doesn’t matter who’s out there — you can pull somebody off the couch — if we don’t do our jobs.”