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Typically, by the final game of preseason, teams already have a pretty good idea who their starters will be. The final game is simply a formality and at the very most, used to decide which depth players will stay and which will go. You certainly don't want to risk injury to any players that you hope will significantly contribute during the regular season.
San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick has not played in a game – regular season or otherwise – since November 1, 2015. His first opportunity to do so may come on Friday when the 49ers host the Green Bay Packers at Levi's Stadium. First, the coaching staff will try to "ease" him back into practices this week to see if they can get him ready to play on Friday.
Kaepernick has not fully practiced since August 10, when his arm fatigue, muscle issue, or whatever the team is choosing to call it, first caused him problems.
For Kaepernick, it is important that he does play if he wants to have a chance at climbing back into the quarterback competition with Blaine Gabbert, who has started each of the 49ers' two preseason matchups. While Gabbert's play has been erratic at times, he is out there going against opposing defenses while Kaepernick has been limited to being a spectator. Gabbert has also been part of two touchdown drives during preseason, something the coaching staff labeled as important when evaluating the quarterbacks.
People need to keep in mind that if Kap is to return for preseason play he will likely have 1 game to audition. 4th game is more formality.— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) August 21, 2016
Prior to Saturday's victory over the Denver Broncos, Kaepernick was seen on the field about two hours before kickoff. He reportedly threw over 50 passes, varying in distance, in about a 30-minute window. Kaepernick felt fine on Sunday.
"Kap is fine," 49ers head coach Chip Kelly said Sunday. "I saw Kap. He's fine."
What's the plan to ease the quarterback back into practice this week? Kelly was vague in his answer. "He's going to throw some more," he said. Kelly would not indicate whether or not Kaepernick would participate in team drills and simply said that they would see how it goes once he is out there throwing.
On Tuesday, the 49ers signed quarterback Christian Ponder, who first practiced with the team on Wednesday in Denver. On Saturday, Ponder entered late in the third quarter and was responsible for two touchdowns – one through the air and one using his legs. However, Ponder does not figure to be included in the quarterback competition conversation and is just looking to make a team that already has rookie Jeff Driskel on the roster.
For Kaepernick, playing against the Packers and playing very well will be important if he hopes to have any chance at starting Week 1 when the 49ers host the Los Angeles Rams. You certainly don't want to throw him into a game before he is ready, but at the same time, you want to see if Kaepernick can distinguish himself from his competition. So far, he reportedly hasn't been able to do so during practices. Friday may be his last shot.
Kaepernick started the 2015 season as the 49ers' starting quarterback. He tore a ligament in his throwing hand's thumb during an October 22 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. During his next game, a November 1 matchup against the then-St. Louis Rams, Kaepernick said that he suffered a bone bruise and cracked cartilage. That game would be his last of the season before being benched in favor of Gabbert and eventually being placed on injured reserve.
Of course, if Kaepernick doesn't win the starting job and Gabbert struggles against a very difficult early team schedule, he could find himself to be the most popular player among fans who are looking for a change.