Stakes high for Gabbert in 49ers’ meaningless games

This is my Sunday column.

It’s audition time for Blaine Gabbert.

While most of the 49ers have nothing left to play for but professional pride, Gabbert gets to play for the 49ers’ starting-quarterback job in 2016. For him the stakes are high, and yet the pressure is low. I’ll explain.

For the first time in his NFL career, Gabbert is playing relaxed. There’s no pressure on him to be great, no pressure on him to be the face of the franchise like there was in Jacksonville. He doesn’t have to force passes downfield anymore. He can make throws that are available to him.

On 3rd and 9, Gabbert can throw a check-down pass to a running back for a five- yard gain, the team can punt and no one will criticize him for not throwing downfield. The Niners are just happy their quarterback isn’t taking another sack, or throwing another pick, or hitting another equipment guy in the coconut with an errant throw.

Gabbert looks good by not being bad. He doesn’t have to play that well — he just has to be a quarterback. Because his predecessor, Colin Kaepernick, is NOT a quarterback. He is a good athlete posing as a quarterback. Gabbert is lucky to be compared to him.

Kaepernick struggles with the basics of the quarterback position, even though he’s been in the league five years. Gabbert also has been in the league five years, and he understands coverages, protections, hot routes, sight-adjust principles — things a five-year vet should understand. Things Kaepernick doesn’t quite understand.

Kaepernick is 28 years old, and like a junior varsity player he still waits for visual confirmation a receiver is open before throwing him the ball.

Gabbert is 26, and throws where the receiver will be, not where he already is. That’s called throwing with anticipation, and that’s what a real quarterback does. Thanks to Kaepernick, Gabbert gets points for doing things a quarterback is supposed to do. Looking at Gabbert after all these years looking at Kaepernick, you say to yourself, “Oh, that’s what a quarterback looks like.”

Kaepernick made Gabbert’s audition easy. Gabbert doesn’t have to score many points or even win many games this season — he just has to be competent and not make bonehead mistakes.

And it’s in the Niners’ interest for Gabbert to play reasonably well. If he’s competent, the Niners won’t have to draft a quarterback in the first round. They may end up with a top-five pick. There may not be a quarterback worthy of such a high selection this year. If Gabbert is competent, the Niners can draft a quarterback in the second round and let him develop on the bench for a season.

If Gabbert is competent, the Niners will have one of the cheapest starting quarterbacks in the NFL in 2016. His salary-cap hit will be just $2.25 million.

If Gabbert is competent, the Niners won’t have to sign someone else to play quarterback next season. Check out the names of some of the quarterbacks who will be free agents in 2016: Matt Cassel, Matt Schaub, Matt McGloin, Matt Moore, Matt Hasselbeck — a lot of bad Matts. The Niners may figure Gabbert is better than those Matts and some of the other quarterbacks masquerading as starters in a quarterback-starved NFL.

If Gabbert is competent, the Niners will say he played well in an “adverse environment” — he has no Carlos Hyde, no Reggie Bush, no Vernon Davis, plus a suspect offensive line. How could anyone expect Gabbert to win with such a bad offense?

Gabbert would have to fall on his face to fail this audition.

He probably won’t fall on his face. After two starts this season, he already has shown he’s competent. He actually was better than competent last week against the Seahawks in Seattle. Gabbert threw for 264 yards and posted a passer rating of 98.2 – better numbers than Kaepernick ever put up against the Seahawks.

Gabbert may be improving. He’s not that old. We don’t know what his top limit is — we already know Kaepernick’s, and it’s pretty limited.

Time to find out how good Gabbert can be. It’s one thing this season is about.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at

  1. Not disagreeing. Plunk rose from his own ashes, although I’m not comparing Blaine to him yet.
    Pretty much every one of those guys in the locker room need to feel a sense of urgency as they audition throughout this sorry season.

  2. Does Gabbert’s contract have any language that offers more money if he’s the starter for a certain number of games?

  3. I agree with GC to a large extent, but if goff is there, we have to take him. We cannot afford another Rogers possibility. Right now, the Niners can’t have enough good QB’s. You imagine putting all our eggs in the Gabbert basket. What if he sucked next year? They would never live down passing on a potential franchise QB.

      1. As long as Baalke is conducting the draft, you will NEVER see an offensive skill player-who becomes something worth watching-being drafted. You haven’t for 4 years…………Whats more, he would have you believe Tomsula and his staff are superior to Holmgren and his. Also, Gase and Fangio. Those are his judgements. Don’t go to the games!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. That has got to excite the hell out of the Yorks, your starting qb is going to make only 2.25mil next year and your “hand picked” coach is among the lowest paid at any level, college or pro. It doesn’t get any better for cheapskate owners like Denise York.

  5. Kaepernick’ game imploded over the last two years. But until Gabbert has a Superbowl appearance under his belt I’ll withhold comparisons.

      1. Hammer,
        Well, you gave two facts:
        1. You don’t have to be a good QB to get to the SB.
        2. Rex Grossman got to the SB.

        Gabbert has yet to do either. Now I like what Blain has shown so far but unlike you I can’t get too excited over two games.

        1. Does either have that 2012 defense. Kaepernick was decent until he had to really be a QB. I’ve seen enough to know who the better QB in 2015 is, and that’s what the comparison is really about.

          1. This could also be said for Cam, R Wilson and our former QB Smith with that same 2012 defense. I believe the Bills and Jets also fall into this category with great defenses and mediocre QB’s. Although this formula is not working for a washed up Manning.

            I think its early to determine who the better QB is but for now and this season, BG through 2 games is better.

          2. Hammer,
            Yes, we had a very good defense in the 2012 season, just not good enough when we needed it to be.

            While you and many here want to blame Kaep for the SB loss, as a burgeoning sports writer you would do well to look at how our 2012 defense was losing steam as it entered the playoffs heading to the SB.

            On Dec. 16, they gave up 34 points to the Patriots. 24 points in the 4th qtr alone. If I’m not mistaken, it took a good kickoff return and a pass from Kap to Crabtree to ice the win.

            On Dec. 23, they gave up 42 points to the seahags. And yes, Kap couldn’t get it going in that game, but let’s face it, our defense got smacked in the mouth (just ask Vernon Davis).

            On Jan. 12, 2013, in the playoff game against the Packers our defense gave up 31 points.
            Btw, as you say, we needed a QB to better then decent – that day Kap was phenomenal! You may not admit it, but Kap put the team on his back for the win.

            On Jan. 20, 2013, in the conference championship game in Atlanta, our defense gave up 31 points. They had 17 – 0 lead in the first half against out vaunted defense. Again, a good argument could be made that Kap bailed us out for the win.

            On Fe. 3, 2013, the Ravens pinned 34 points on our great defense. We did well to at the very least make a respectable game of it by scoring 31 points only to lose with a bad pass from Kap to Crabtree.

            But as you see, our defense was on the decline when we got into the playoffs more so than Kap’ game. But hey, since CK has become the whipping boy of late let’s just forget what he did in 2012 and the playoffs.

        2. Hammer – Rex and Trent Dilfer got to the SB more because of the performances of their teammates rather than their own skill sets leading the parade. The sum of the whole is greater than any of the parts.

          1. “Rex and Trent Dilfer got to the SB more because of the performances of their teammates rather than their own skill sets leading the parade.”

            Which is why I used Grossman in my comment. Not comparing the play of Kaepernick to Gabbert just because one made it to a Super Bowl three years ago as one commenter stated is myopic.

              1. Myopic cuts both ways when the commentator fails to view that our defense was showing signs of weakness when we got to the 2012 – 2013 playoff stage. And completely ignoring that a better than “decent” QB helped get us to the Superbowl.

  6. The way Staley and Baalke were yucking it up along the Stanford sideline, you’d think this team was 9-1. Competence from the OL might allow Gabbert to be more than competent….

    1. Did you see those man in motion,end arounds,reverses, flea flickers, laterals? Shaw is my choice for the next Niner coach.If the Niners succeed to draft Kevin Hogan, Shaw may get the Niners back into the playoffs.

  7. MM seems to think Tomsula will be back unless they really blow the last six games. :(

    “So, clearly, the 49ers are not in a rush to move on from Tomsula and admit their mistake so quickly. That’s why these final six games are important. If the 49ers make improvements over these final weeks of the season and many of the young players show development – described as the results of good teaching — Tomsula will be back in 2016.

    This is unlike the situation the 49ers faced in 2010 with Mike Singletary. There was a superstar head coach the organization identified and wanted. And they had a good idea that Harbaugh would be available for them.”

  8. Been wondering about Lynch or Goff… (have not looked into others yet, like Cook)

    I missed Lynch’s performance today, I hope to see some footage later.

    Goff faces better competition, but I think Lynch is getting by with less talented pass catchers (even relative to competition).

    At this point I’d take Lynch. The Niners will have to trade up for him, if they think he’s worth it. I see the points many are making that there might not be a slam dunk QB in this draft, so get one in later rounds.

    I think the 49ers will wind up drafting around 9th or 10th. There’s alot of bad teams, and the 49ers lose most tie breakers due to strength of schedule.

    I get the feeling this draft won’t be as talented towards the top as the 2014/15 drafts. Don’t be too disappointed if the 49ers draft a player high who leaves us feeling ho-hum.

    1. Don’t sleep on Baker Mayfield.
      Kids got good speed and vision. With an arm to back it up. Not saying this because I’m a sooner fan, but this kid has gotten better real quick.
      Perine is no joke either. Might be the next Peterson coming out of OU!

        1. Take a QB with your first overall selection and let him sit behind Gabbert for 2 years. That’s the best case scenario. Then build your oline and dlines with all those other picks.
          Note: Trent Baalke cannot be involved in the rebuild.

          1. There’s no standout top 10 can’t miss QB this year, so it might be better to get an OL or DL with first round pick. Then a solid QB in the 2nd round.

            If Baalke is still with the team, we’ll see if he really is a good GM.

            1. So far this year, Baalke has failed miserably. Going cheap just led to cheap results. He really should have worked harder to retain good players. When Cook Dockette Wright and Bush disappear, and Torrey goes catchless in games, he has whiffed too many times.His biggest failing was passing on Lael Collins in the draft and thinking that Devey and Pears are any good.
              If Baalke’s assessment skills are so lacking, he should be held accountable.

          2. Unfortunately, Baalke’s not going anywhere. None of the coaching staff hires, or especially the front office hires, are about whats best for the team. Its about whats best for Jed i.e. who makes him comfortable.

      1. There are currently 8 teams with 7 or 8 losses. The Niners have the Bears, Browns, Lions and Rams remaining. All beatable, especially if Hyde and Kilgore return.

        1. Why would Hyde and Kilgore return? I’m not predicting. I just want to know why they would be activated at this point.

          Then there are Romo and Jones saying it was worth the risk.

  9. I hope it works out. I’ve said this before.
    Drafting defense and o-line would benefit them. Do we really want a rookie qb under this coaching staff and gm? Wasted pick IMO!
    I can only hope they land a big defensive player in FA and draft a top player on defense coming out. Plug in a veteran pass rusher or LB and draft the other would be huge for this team. If they stick with Gabbert it be better to build a top 3 defense again. Plug in a player for Cowboy and Willis and they might not be to far off. I think Lynch can fill A Smiths spot with a better DE helping him out.
    Snatch a top flight RG and hope a Davis comes back. You got a healthy Hyde and it could be 2011 all over again.

    1. I think the play of Gabbert over the rest of the season will have an impact on how/who the 49ers draft. It would be nice to have a high draft position without being in a panic about the QB position.

      1. Apples and oranges and sour grapes.If Blaine proves compendant enough to hold the reigns while we rebuild with a new staff we luck out for indeed we could wait till the second and grab say QB C Wentz thereby allowing us to grab P Willis’ replacement in the first – Jaylon Smith .

        1. Jaylon Smith ILB in the first.
          Jack Conklin OT in the second.
          Carl Lawson OLB/DE in the third.
          Nate Sudfeld QB in the fourth.

          1. Razor,
            I like it, but have my qualms about Sudfeld. At a 4th rd I could live with that, but I think we could draft a possible future QB in the 3rd rd as well.
            I like Wentz (2-3 rd), and my dark horse Brandon Doughty (3-5 rd) from Western Kentucky.

            There will be some very good second tier QB’s in the 2016 after the first group
            of Goff, Cook, Lynch, etc. are gone.
            But if Gabbert completely whiffs in the next 6 games we will have no option but to pick a first tier QB.

      2. there will be no offensive skill players of any consequence drafted by Baalke. There hasn’t been in four years. Not one. Not one all-pro.

      1. I’m not saying they can be replaced easy. But I will say they slowed a little and still
        Had a huge impact on the defensive side of the ball. Quit being so literal all of the time. Jeez!!

    1. Well, just read his scouting report. Has a cannon for an arm and is mobile, but his shoulder was injured, he can be inaccurate at times and he has problems reading the defense. He might be Kaep2.

        1. I like Hogan because he can make those critical throws accurately under immense pressure. That Stanford-ND game was a classic.

          1. Seb,
            I’ve never been a K.Hogan fan (mainly because I’m a Cal backer) but the guy just wins. And you are right, he made the critical throws last night when the team desperately needed to have them.

            There’s nothing sexy about Hogan, but whoever drafts him may have a very good starting QB in a couple of years.

              1. I concede that there is a lot to like about Hogan, i. e. pocket awareness, mitigates pressure off the edge, reading defenses, secondary manipulation, footwork reflects well on thought process, throwing with anticipation, tough, leadership, plenty of arm strength, athletic. Pretty good, yea? The only question I have is will he have to alter his delivery mechanics for NFL windows and if so, how will that affect his accuracy? Or will his arm strength mitigate his elongated release? I wouldn’t be upset if the 49ers selected him….

              2. I think he would be available after the Niners get their O lineman and pass rusher.
                Maybe they should channel the Stanford connection like Brodie and Washington did in the 60’s.

  10. I don’t want any QB in the draft if Tomsula is the HC next year. It’s pointless. Build up the lines and bomb out next year too. Make the team strong overall then draft your QB in 2 years where hopefully Tomsula is canned..

  11. Gabbert is NOT better than Kaepernick at anything but losing. See creer wins and losses. Kaepernick was set up for failure from his ridiculous contract negotiations to the adjustment of the line to be aweful. He took a beating this year because there were no adjustments, he played hurt and with a leash behind the worst O line the 49ers have had since the years before Bill Walsh. The team scrapped together a highschool playbook that had pop warner coaches shaking their heads. This team has been in total disarray since news leaked about Harbaugh being forced out. Baalke is the script writer for this abortion and York is the little dog bouncing around him cluelessly. Gabbert is playing for his career and sure, his #s against the Hawks were ok but he lost…again and is nothing but a career back up with some potential if he had the proper coaching and system…just like Kaepernick…but with an NFL Europe coaching staff, a management team and clueless owner allowing them all to continue to approach professional football in such amature fashion…no QB is the future and any draft pick wasted early will produce nothing more than another Alex Smith at best…more than likely another Ryan Leaf.

    By the way…nice try with your article. But it was pretty clear it was written with false optimism. Gabbert isn’t the future and will be lucky to even be on the 49ers next year, along with the few that are left from the Harbaugh/Championship Era… Everyone is expendable…why do you think Willis retired, Gore wanted out, Davis retired, Vernon stomped his feet and spoke out…ect…ect…you know the rest. Pay attention…the rest are on the way out and this team is gonna start from scratch…literally…sad

    1. Dude
      The playbook was simplified to the Kindergarden level that Colin could handle. Blame Chryst. Blame Roman. Fine.
      I don’t hate Colin, but the eyeball test………

    2. Let’s keep it real.
      Ck came in on fire. Why?????
      Reason 1. The option was new to the NFL and it took a whole 1 offseason to stop it!
      2… He was surrounded by a dominant defense
      3… He was surrounded by a dominate running game.
      4… He had a good coaching staff
      5… He actually had title confidence in his game.

      Name one time Gabbert had any of those things working for him!
      Enough said!

      1. This RO nonsense has got to stop. Russel Wilson is running the RO, and he destroyed the Niners with it. GB ran the pistol at times last year and made it to the NFCCG. Forcing Kaep to be only a pocket passer just took away one of his most effective weapons.
        Granted, teams have schemed to be able to stop it, but it still is a very effective tactic and puts huge stress on a defense.

          1. Maybe he sucks because the whole team sucks. Put Kaep in Cam’s place and he would do well because he would have a decent O line, and an elite defense.
            Also, Kaep was injured, and I think it may have started when he was blown up by a huge hit along the side line during his first game. His inaccuracy followed that game, and got worse during the GB game when Devey let Mathews blow by him to sack Kaep hard.

            1. Bro you gotta let the injury thing go. It’s not a good excuse. It’s a non throwing shoulder, he had plummeted every year, and had no problem with it prior to his benching.
              Yes he’d probably look a little better with a better team around him, but he doesn’t look as good as Gabbert. Hasn’t all season. Same team… No RB, same defense, same coach,
              Now my question to you regarding cam and Wilson.
              When have you seen ck throw balls downfield like they have and hit?
              My other question is this..
              Is ck worth the money he’s due next season if he stays?
              Dude I was all for ck coming in and becoming our long term qb. But he sucks. Flat out. No excuses. Guy can’t grasp the qb roll. He can’t read defenses, he can’t scramble, he can’t hit accurate passes, he can’t take a leadership role. He will be a journeyman at best in this league. A flash in the pan like so many before him. Sad reality.

        1. Wilson and Newton have had continued success with the read option because they have better short area quickness than Kaepernick and are more of a threat in the passing game.

          No d coordinators fear or respect Kaepernick’s ability to beat them with his arm.

          1. Well, it is really hard to defend Kaep because he did not shine, but I feel there are extenuating circumstances and all his woes are not totally his fault. The loss of Willis Cowboy and Gore cannot be understated because those players were the heart and soul of the team. The Niners lost their best pass rusher even before a single snap. The huge loss of leadership and talent made the regression of Kaep predictable.
            Kaep may have played poorly, but I think that with the proper competent coaching, he could resurrect his career.

              1. Why did they wait until he was injured before replacing Devey? Kaep was sacked 28 times, and those were not love taps.

              2. Why does anything this coaching staff do make any sense?
                The fact is Seb, for 2 years #7 struggled with accuracy and reading defenses and leadership ability.
                Obviously you are the only one in North America who disagrees a change wasn’t needed!

              3. I like Kaep. I am not going to deny it. However, I have conceded that he is playing horribly. I even called for Gabbert to play, to make it a competition to try and improve his play.
                Of course, it is all moot with his injury.

      1. Razor, maybe it is not my place to say it, but please do not use that term on this site. It is a very touchy subject and I can imagine some woman reading this after a miscarriage and being hurt even more. It may hit home too hard and we have a thesaurus to describe this train wreck/dumpster fire more eloquently.

        1. Still over protective about “the weaker gender” Seb? You’re venturing into ‘DS’ or ‘Monkeypunk’ territory now. Not a good look.

    3. @Gerry D – Agree to a point as in many things our opinion is identical.
      Gabbert is more inline with current & foreseeable future of the 49er Franchise requirements – cheap starter, ball control dump-off passes, short timing routes & the occasional deep throw.
      The reason – consider the York NFL Ownership philosophy – Maximum Profits.
      Harbaugh was hired because spending the money necessary to become a winner was required in order to have built a new stadium with Luxury Boxes & other high profit items not included in the NFL Revenue Sharing Plan.
      Harbaugh & staff were terminated as no longer required since the stadium was built but the money spent was recaptured by requiring Season Ticket Holders to purchase SBL’s which were also not subject to Revenue Sharing.
      Good luck selling them on the open market for anything approaching money spent.

      Tomsula will be retained a minimum 4 seasons excuses given to record due to “Rebuilding”. Then he will be granted a “Job” as Baalke personal asst. or coffee maker / yes man office flunky.
      Since the Texans, Browns, Lions are all also intending upon Drafting a Franchise Qb – retain Gabbert, Trade even if its the #1 Pick in the Draft down for a Kings Ransom of 2 x Round 1’s & a #2’s plus the Baalke collection of #7’s for a decade.
      Use the extra Draft choices to rebuild the Offensive Line.

      Boone, A. Brooks, Boldin will all be gone. Do not be surprised if Torry Smith is traded or released after next season as will all other expiring Vet contracts above minimum to suit the York business model of Maximizing Profits.
      The Franchise Qb will be selected after the 2016 season when the record is duplicated or worse & only then to promote new excitement maybe keeping a few Season Ticket Holders from dropping & a 1/2 filled stadium.

  12. Was Jed at the Stanford Notre Dame game? Maybe he stayed home to work on the offensive game plan for tomorrow. Paraag was probably at the game.

  13. Yes, Kaep is gone. He had the physique and all the skills an elite QB needs; size, strength, speed, cannon for an arm, and record setting running skills, but for some reason, he struggled to get a play off in time, and was maddeningly inaccurate.
    Kaep may have failed, but his owner failed him by showing weak leadership, his Gm failed to keep his promises, His coaches failed to use him properly, his O line failed him big time, and his receivers failed to hold onto the ball.
    However, his inability to pass the basic competency test by getting a play off in time is what really disappointed me. His leadership skills were also lacking on and off the field. Kaep got injured, so now he is gone, and Gabbert is the new QB.
    Gabbert does have skills, and he is fast and elusive. He seems to have nice touch on the ball so even Vance can catch the ball, and he is fairly accurate. I hope they sit Pears so Gabbert will at least have a millisecond to throw. If the defense can make a tackle, the coaches do not go brain dead and the O line holds up, the Niners have a slim chance to pull an upset.

      1. I beg to differ. Leadership is very important, too. Look at Cam. He is not lighting up the league with his accuracy, but he makes everyone around him better, and his defense has helped immensely. When the O line is a turnstile and gives the QB no time to even drop back and his receivers are blanketed, any QB will be limited.
        I watched the Pats play, and Brady will throw it into the ground a lot, but of course, he is avoiding holding onto the ball too long and will not try to force it and risk an interception. Maybe you would call that accurate, but his completion percentage, the barometer for accuracy, suffers.

  14. Wake up on a Sunday morning….Game Day. Oh, but….hmm, yeah, never mind…..
    Remember back in the olden days when Game Day had relevance and entertainment value?

  15. I am surprised nobody has mentioned the Ohio State- Michigan game. JH did not have a good game because his vaunted defense looked like the Niners last game and gave up over 200 yards rushing.

  16. Since the Niners have no chance of seriously contending, I hope Tomsula goes bold. He should let the young players get into the game and fire them up by inspiring them to play like junkyard dogs. If the O linemen are grabbing the shoulder pads, he should instruct them to put a forearm shiver into their solar plexus. The D linemen should have a hand in the air to disrupt CP line of sight and jump up and wave their hands like cheerleaders to bat down the ball. I hope either Dial or Armstead will tip a ball for an interception.
    .I think they should go bold and not settle for field goals. Even 4th and 5 from the 20.
    The Niners could win if they line up 4 wide to spread out the defense, then gash them up the middle. They should study the Stanford game and realize that if young men can figure out innovative plays, grizzled veteran pro players should be able to do the same thing.
    GO NINERS!!!!!!

  17. seb ..

    love your enthusiasm … but ..
    wish in one hand …..
    (and you know the rest)

    Jimmy the T .. doesn’t appear to have
    that kind of moxie !

    1. MWN,
      Jimmy the T reminds me of my butcher, known in my parts as Jimmy the Butcher (lol).

      Personally, I think we need a new coaching regime at seasons end, but Jed will not fork out the money to hire anyone of significance.

  18. Inactives – Hyde, White, Brooks, Armstrong, Thomas, Silberman. A clear indication the 49ers will open the game with a triple reverse run/pass option tackle eligible.

  19. Great write up Grant. Of course I can still remember when I compared Kap to a HS QB in his first year and I was laughed of the board and called a Smither….
    When Crabtree had his best year as a 9er, he was actually catching balls that were under or overthrown and making Kap looking good in the process……..

    1. ya mean “Short-arm” .. ??

      THAT Crabtree ? … ya know ..
      way back when AS did the
      “Camp Alex” thing at SJ State
      (during the lockout) … there was a
      quote from him dissing the QB ..

      And that told me all I ever wanted to know
      about him …

      The guy is a HOF-er … fer sure, huh ?
      (in his own mind, of course)

  20. I’m assuming that his days in SF are done, but does anyone think that anyone can resurrect his career.

    Step one: Keep him away from Warner in the off-season.

    1. Bob, Its clear QB7 was bad for Warner’s reputation as a result Warner has been distancing himself from his former student. QB7 would be an albatross for EXOS.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *