San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly has named quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the starter for the team when they play the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, New York on October 16. It will be his first start since November 1 of 2015. He was benched shortly after that date in favor of Blaine Gabbert, who started the 2016 season as the 49ers' starting quarterback.
Offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins had been scheduled to meet with the media following defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil. However, Kelly surprisingly stepped to the podium in his place and made the announcement.
Kelly stated that they wanted to make the announcement early in order to give Kaepernick an opportunity to work with the first team offense. "I believe you've got to do it at the beginning of the week just because of how reps are distributed," Kelly said. "Our ones obviously get more reps than our twos during the week in practice so to get him to run with the ones, you've got to do it at the beginning of the week. So we're going to do it at the beginning of the week and see where we go from there."
Kelly stated that the move was a "football decision" and had nothing to do with his contract. "It's not Blaine's fault," Kelly said. "I think it's just as a group, offensively, we need to be better in a lot of ways. So we're going to see what we can do and make a move here."
Kelly said that it was one of the only moves that they could make based on the team's depth.
"They were fine," Kelly answered when asked how the quarterbacks responded to the news. "They're both professionals. They both understand. Obviously, the conversation with Kap was different from the conversation with Blaine, but it is what it is and we've got to make those decisions and sometimes you've got to make the tough decisions."
Kelly said that the offense will not change due to the change at quarterback. "They're both a similar type athlete in terms of what they can do," Kelly said. "They both run. They both throw. So I don't think you'll see, schematically, we're not going to change our entire offense to do this. You're not dealing with two different type of athletic people."
|Colin Kaepernick's NFL Career|
|Season||Games||Pass Rate||PFF Grade|
Gabbert, who is now the backup quarterback for the 49ers, had won an offseason quarterback competition to win the starting job going into the regular season. However, recovery from three surgeries following the 2015 season caused Kaepernick to miss much of the team's offseason program. Then, he suffered what the team described as an "upper-arm muscle issue" that caused the quarterback to miss the team's first two preseason games.
Kelly has stated numerous times that Kaepernick has not been in the discussion for playing time because the quarterback is not where he physically needs to be. He always uses Kaepernick's 2013 season as a reference, saying that the quarterback has not gotten back to the level of health he was at during that season – often giving the example of his weight being lighter than it was at that point. Although, he has been active for each of the team's five games this season.
"A source with knowledge of Kaepernick's progress said the quarterback is close to his ideal, 225-pound weight but still has some pounds to gain," Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee reported on Friday.
While he may not be at everyone's idea of his ideal weight, his arm strength is reportedly back to normal. "He's just zipping the ball," one source said.
Kaepernick has continually insisted that he is ready to play. "I'm always ready to step on that field and looking forward to that opportunity," he said following the 49ers' loss to the Seattle Seahawks last month.
Kelly stated that there is no concern regarding any distractions created from his protests now that he is the starting quarterback. "It has not been an issue," Kelly said. He believes that Kaepernick has handled the situation very well and that will continue.
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, the already mentioned November 1 matchup against the then-St. Louis Rams, Kaepernick said that he suffered a bone bruise and cracked cartilage. Kaepernick was eventually placed on season-ending injury reserve.
Over his career, Kaepernick has passed for 10,030 yards, 56 touchdowns, and 26 interceptions. He was drafted by the 49ers in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft and took over at quarterback during the 2012 season following an injury to then-starter Alex Smith.
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 last season. Gabbert had won just one of his five starts this season, completed just 58-percent of his passes (29th in the NFL), has passer rating is 69.6 (31st) and he has passed for just 5.93 yards per attempt (32nd).