Jim Tomsula took notice during Blaine Gabbert’s days as a backup quarterback how he arrived to work each morning at 6 a.m., cup of coffee in hand, ready to study film.
“Like he’s going to start,” the 49ers’ head coach recalled Monday. “This is all of last year you see the guy constantly doing those things. And then you say he’s 25 years old. Sometimes being able to look at it from a different vantage point can do a world of good for you.”
Now that Gabbert is under center as the Niners’ No. 1, all of those extra hours of preparation seem to be paying off — enough so that he should be in the conversation for the franchise’s future plans, such as competing for the starting job in 2016.
Gabbert is certainly showing he could be the right fit going forward, and vice versa.
He ran 44 yards for the tying touchdown late in regulation, then completed a 71-yard pass to Torrey Smith for the game-winner in overtime to beat the Chicago Bears 26-20 on Sunday at Soldier Field.
“It was crazy. The emotional highs and the emotional lows throughout any NFL football game are wild,” Gabbert said. “Especially in a game like that, a close one back and forth, coming down to the wire there at the end of regulation.”
The same could be said for the former first-round draft pick’s up-and-down career. Jacksonville selected Gabbert 10th overall in the 2011 draft, but until he led the 49ers to a victory against Atlanta on Nov. 8, he hadn’t started an NFL game since Week 5 of the 2013 season with the Jaguars.
Now, he has thrown for 963 yards and five touchdowns in four starts for the 49ers (4-8) with three interceptions.
Who knew Gabbert could run like he did down the stretch?
“He’s taking what the defense gives him and not trying to force anything,” running back Shaun Draughn said Monday. “He’s a smart guy and definitely knows, from a study standpoint, the tendencies of a defense.
That big-play ability is helping the 49ers forget about the demoted and injured Colin Kaepernick’s remarkable, almost unprecedented, freefall from among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.
Kaepernick had largely been considered the heir apparent to Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young when former coach Jim Harbaugh promoted him in November 2012 over Alex Smith and Kaepernick immediately led the team to a Super Bowl.
He is now recovering from surgery on his non-throwing left shoulder and his time with the organization could be over. Meanwhile, the 49ers may put off the idea of drafting Cal quarterback Jared Goff with what should be a high first-round draft pick.
In a turbulent year for more than just Kaepernick, the 49ers finally earned a hard-fought road win at Chicago after beginning 0-5 away from Levi’s Stadium. Gabbert’s leadership played a key role in the result.
“You really saw the peaks and valleys of NFL football right there,” he said. “Our guys did a tremendous job on both sides of the football, fighting through the adversity, playing clutch football and coming out with a victory.”
Gabbert has grabbed his opportunity to say the least, a much-needed second chance he hopes lasts well beyond this season.
“He’s been really steady,” Tomsula said. “Again, the way he’s approached his job since he’s been here has been really impressive. I think since you’ve seen him in games on Sundays, you’ve seen him progress. He’s moving along well. Blaine is a talented quarterback. But, we’re really excited about where he’s at and where he’s heading. We still need to keep getting better. And the way he interacts with everybody and the way he handles the offense, all of those things are really good.”
This Sunday in Cleveland, the 49ers are expecting to see problem child Johnny Manziel start for the Browns, though coach Mike Pettine refused Monday to reveal his quarterbacking plans.
NOTES: RB Carlos Hyde’s status remains unclear after he missed his fifth straight game with a stress fracture in his left foot. “I don’t know if Carlos will play this year or not. I know Carlos would like to try and play,” Tomsula said. “Whatever’s best for Carlos is what we’re eventually going to get to.” … LB Aaron Lynch and TE Vance McDonald are in the NFL concussion protocol. LB Michael Wilhoite was scheduled for an MRI on his injured ankle. … TE Garrett Celek was to have a meeting with medical staff to determine how his high left ankle sprain is healing a week later.