While much of the focus from San Francisco 49ers training camp has been on the competition between Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick, there is another quarterback battle going on. Whoever loses the battle for the starting job will likely be the backup for the team – unless the 49ers decide to trade someone away. Behind the two quarterbacks, buried in the depth chart, will either be Jeff Driskel or Thad Lewis, who have not been discussed as much.
Which of the two has impressed the most – or disappointed the least – during the team's first three practices of training camp?
Grant Cohn of the Press Democrat was impressed with Driskel during Tuesday's practice – the 49ers' first with pads on. "Completed 11-of-14 passes with the third-team offense and made the throw of the day," said Cohn. "Torrey Smith was running a corner route against Cover 2 zone defense. Driskel threw the pass before Smith made his break, the ball floated over leaping cornerback Keith Reaser, who was covering a zone in the flat, and hit Smith's hands before the safety could run over and knock it down. Perfect throw."
"Rookie Jeff Driskel finished the [route-running] period with a pair of back-to-back completions to [Jerome] Simpson and [Torrey] Smith on downfield throws," said Joe Fann of 49ers Media.
"I look forward to competing with whoever is in the meeting room with me," Driskel said following his selection in May. He spent time with Florida from 2011 through 2014. Driskel played for Louisiana Tech in 2015 where he completed 62.3-percent of his passes for 4,026 yards, 27 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a rating of 154.1 in 13 games. head coach Chip Kelly values accuracy and Driskel had that during his one year at Louisiana Tech.
Back in May during the 49ers' three-day minicamp, Kelly spoke highly of Driskel. "I think he's done a really nice job. He's really intelligent. Picked things up conceptually very quickly," said Kelly. "He's very athletic. I think he was the fastest quarterback at the combine. He's big. He's got a good arm."
Of course, not everyone has been quick to praise the potential of Driskel. Lance Zierlein of NFL Media doesn't believe that Driskel will ever emerge as anything more than a backup signal caller. "The problem I saw on tape with him on my draft board is that when the bullets fly and it gets a little noisy in the pocket, he turns into a different guy," Zierlein explained. "The head drops down, the eyes drop and he becomes a more rushed, impatient player. I don't think that changes. Honestly, I think it's in you – that level of confidence and poise. You either have it or you don't and you can get a little bit better with it, but the NFL is all about heating you up at the quarterback position."
As for Lewis, who spent last season on the Philadelphia Eagles' roster with Kelly, not all of the news out of training camp has been positive. Of course, Lewis may not have gotten much help on Tuesday. "Tight end Busta Anderson dropped a Thad Lewis pass at the start of 11-on-11 action with the third string," said Cam Inman of Bay Area Sports Group.
"Veteran Thad Lewis, who served as Kelly's No. 3 quarterback most of last season with the Eagles, got off to a rough start with four consecutive incomplete passes on four apparent miscommunications with his intended targets to open the first 7-on-7 session of practice," said Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area when describing Lewis' performance during Monday's practice.
Kelly had kept three quarterbacks on his 53-man roster during each of his three seasons in Philadelphia.