When the backup quarterback enters a meaningful NFL game to do anything other than kneel down or assume garbage time duties, something has gone horribly wrong. At that point of dire hopelessness, there’s a minimum accepted standard: competence.
Blaine Gabbert hasn’t shown he’s capable of even that in San Francisco. He didn’t demonstrate competence in Jacksonville either, and he’ll likely never get there. He’s not an NFL quarterback in any capacity, and yet currently he’s one awkward Colin Kaepernick hit away from snaps that matter.
That’s becoming a horrifying reality for the 49ers, as it seems Jim Harbaugh’s quarterback pixie dust has finally met its enemy.
In Gabbert’s preseason debut for the Niners last week he completed only three of his 11 pass attempts, while chucking an interception on a senseless throw into double coverage. He followed that up yesterday with another odor-emitting appearance against the Broncos: eight completions on 14 attempts, with another interception. That’s a completion percentage of only 44 percent through two games, with 60 total passing yards at a pace of 2.4 per attempt.
The continued spiral of Gabbert’s career shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. But for the 49ers, it’s still alarming, and downright maddening.
This is a team that’s been to three straight NFC Championship games (including a trip to the Super Bowl), and has loaded up offensively, expecting to contend again in the vicious NFC West. They added Stevie Johnson, spent a second-round pick on Carlos Hyde, brought in Brandon Lloyd, and re-signed Anquan Boldin.
Most importantly, they dumped money on their young quarterback. Much of it isn’t guaranteed, but the intent is clear regardless: the 49ers want Colin Kaepernick to do his quarterbacking for them, and do it for a long, long time.
But like any team with a quarterback whose success is rooted in scrambling and being creative away from the pocket, the 49ers are well aware of Kaepernick’s tendency to expose himself to injury more often than most. Given that truth and the team’s aforementioned contending aspirations, the 49ers’ backup quarterback needs to be one of the best (or the best) second stringers in the league. Gabbert just might be the worst.
Brandon Weeden would give him a good run if Tony Romo were to go down for any length of time (also a very real possibility). But at least Weeden has a strong arm, and the basic bravery to stand in the pocket and absorb abuse. Gabbert is notoriously jittery, and in now his fourth preseason he’s still shown little desire to set his feet, and deliver in the face of a pass rush.
Already through two preseason games Gabbert has reached the point where bringing Quarterback X in off the street may be the better option. Josh Freeman is still looking for work, and at least in his history we see some sustained success.
A guaranteed $2 million this year will make losing his roster spot a little more difficult, though surely Gabbert is up to that challenge. But losing the No. 2 job is already happening, with Harbaugh saying yesterday the quarterback who “doesn’t turn the ball over”, another minimum qualification, will win the job. Behind Gabbert is Josh Johnson, who’s started five games over six NFL seasons.
Every team would struggle without its starting quarterback for a significant stretch. But if Kaepernick misses even, say, four weeks, the 49ers’ season would be derailed.