Photo by Mitch Stringer of USA Today Sports

Photo by Mitch Stringer of USA Today Sports


Jim Harbaugh has a reputation for being a quarterback guru.

The head coach has helped mold the likes of Colin Kaepernick and Andrew Luck, and both have ultimately become franchise signal callers in the NFL. Harbaugh has also been able to revive the career of Alex Smith, who looked to be headed for life as a career backup before he teamed up with the quarterback whisperer in 2011. Smith has since gone 30-9-1 in his last 40 regular season NFL starts with the 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs.

With a track record like Harbaugh's, it not crazy to think that the 49ers can take a chance on a passer who may have not yet reached his potential, with the hopes that their coach can bring the best out of that player.

That was most likely the thought process when the 49ers traded for Blaine Gabbert this offseason, who was the number 10 overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Gabbert, who the Jaguars hoped would be the savior of their floundering franchise, was a train wreck over his first three seasons.

He started 27 games in Jacksonville, and posted a record of 5-22. 2013 was especially bad, as he seemed to regress across the board. In three starts (all losses), Gabbert completed less than 49 percent of his throws and was picked off seven times.

Overall, the embattled quarterback threw 22 touchdowns to 24 interceptions during the forgettable three year run.

Those in Gabbert's corner could argue that he was thrown into a bad situation, being forced to try and win with limited talent around him. Those same supporters would argue that Gabbert might be a better performer with a stronger supporting cast.

With his trade to the 49ers, Gabbert now has a talented roster around him. While he was in no way ever considered to be a threat to Kaepernick's starting job, the hope was he could show enough to be a quality backup.

Despite the optimism, if Gabbert's first preseason game was any indication, San Francisco might be better off going in a different direction.

Gabbert was flat out awful in his 49ers' debut against the Baltimore Ravens. He looked inaccurate, sailing passes and throwing behind receivers. For the night, he completed only three of 11 throws (27 percent) for 20 yards and an interception.

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, that kind of performance is beyond worrisome.

Now in a perfect world, Gabbert (or whoever ends up being the backup) would never see the field anyway. The 49ers' championship hopes rest on the back of Kaepernick, and if he were to miss an extended period of time the results could be catastrophic.

But when you consider the fact that the Niners were only one win away from having the NFC Championship game in San Francisco last season, even losing Kaepernick for a game or two could set the team back considerably. If Kaepernick were to miss even one start, do the 49ers have a reliable replacement?

Gabbert still has time to turn things around, after all there are still three preseason games to go. Harbaugh and the 49ers still have an opportunity to try and get Gabbert up to speed. However, if he doesn't adjust quickly, they may be better off going with Josh Johnson as the backup.

Moving forward, it might even make sense for San Francisco to draft a quarterback to develop behind Kaepernick. If that player proves to be competent, they could always use him as trade bait down the line similar to what the New England Patriots have done with Ryan Mallett.

That thought's for another day though, and right now the team has to play the cards they have. That may mean holding their collective breathes every time Kaepernick takes a hit in 2014.