The San Francisco 49ers have finally called an end to the quarterback competition and named Blaine Gabbert as the Week 1 starter – when the team opens up the regular season at home against the Los Angeles Rams on September 12, per head coach Chip Kelly.
The decision was not a surprise as most expected Gabbert to get the call as the starter. Gabbert was considered the favorite for most of the offseason and has been able to participate in all of the team's practices and exhibition games – minus the final one where starters rested.
Gabbert wins the competition over Colin Kaepernick, who, following offseason surgeries and a great deal of controversy involving a trade request, could never find a way to truly compete for the top spot. Kaepernick, now the team's backup quarterback, and Christian Ponder remain on the 49ers roster following the team's cuts to reach the 53-man limit. Rookie Jeff Driskel was released and – if he clears waivers – will likely be signed to the team's practice squad.
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More recently, Kaepernick has had to deal with the controversy involving his refusal to stand during the National Anthem prior to multiple preseason games. It was an act of protest by the quarterback.
Kelly stated that only Gabbert and Kaepernick will be active against the Rams during the 49ers' home opener in just over a week.
A muscle issue in Kaepernick's throwing arm limited his practice time during training camp and caused him to miss the 49ers' first two preseason games. That likely set him back in the eyes of the coaching staff who never had an opportunity to fully evaluate the quarterback as they could with Gabbert.
The 49ers coaching staff had stated repeatedly that preseason will be huge for evaluating the two quarterbacks and deciding on a regular season starter. Gabbert had much the spotlight to himself early on and started each of the team's first three exhibition match-ups. "To make a fair evaluation, they have to both get reps with the ones," said head coach Chip Kelly earlier this month.
While Kaepernick was able to start during the final preseason game, he did not play with the 49ers' starters and also played against backups for San Diego.
Chip Kelly said #49ers QB Blaine Gabbert took news of starting job as "just matter of fact to him, and let's go to work."— Cam Inman (@CamInman) September 3, 2016
Amid boos from the crowd during the Chargers' "Salute to the Military" night, Kaepernick led a touchdown drive during the 49ers' opening possession. He finished the night 11 of 18 for 103 yards passing and 38 yards rushing on four carries.
Kaepernick began 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.
Over his career, Kaepernick has competed 815 of his 1,361 regular season attempts for 10,030 yards, 56 touchdowns, and 26 interceptions. However, his passer rating has steadily dropped since maxing out at 98.3 in 2012. Last season, it was just 78.5.
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Gabbert, who was signed by the 49ers prior to the 2014 season, went on to win three of his eight starts as the team finished with a 5-11 record. While Kaepernick recovered from offseason surgeries, Gabbert received the majority of the reps at quarterback during the 49ers' offseason program.
Last season, Gabbert posted his best career passer rating as a starter. He completed 178 of his 282 passes for 2,031 yards through eight games. He threw 10 touchdowns but had seven interceptions, giving him a passer rating of 86.2, an improvement over his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars.