The Niners’ Quarterback Competition: Perception vs. Reality

Anwar Jamison
Aug 23, 2016 at 2:44 PM

Once it became clear that Colin Kaepernick would indeed be a San Francisco 49er in the 2016-2017 season, a large contingent of personalities from both print and television media cast him in the role of long shot for the starting quarterback position, and some insisted that it would not really be a competition at all. Not yet medically cleared to practice during mini-camps, Blaine Gabbert was placing a considerable amount of distance between Kaepernick and himself in the race for the job, or so the narrative went.

49ers Head Coach Chip Kelly, on the other hand, went out of his way to deny that Kaepernick had lost ground in the competition whenever the topic came up. He maintained that the "mental reps" that Kaepernick received while the other quarterbacks practiced were valuable. He even explained that he spent more time speaking directly to Kaepernick than the other quarterbacks as a result of him being unable to practice.

When Kaepernick was medically cleared in time for training camp, the battle began in earnest. During the first week, the daily reports from media members revealed that the competition was mostly even, but seemed to suggest that Kaepernick was looking better than Gabbert, even if only slightly. It wasn't until the last practice before the scrimmage against the Houston Texans that Kaepernick had what was described as a bad day by all of the reporters in attendance.

We all know what happened after that: Kaepernick was shut down due to soreness in his throwing shoulder. After that final practice on Wednesday, August 10th, Kaepernick did not practice again until Monday, August 22, roughly a week and a half later. During that time, there was once again a deafening chorus of onlookers declaring that the competition was over. By their logic, how could Kaepernick catch up when he was so far behind in the race?

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

That's perception. Here's reality. The quarterback competition is exactly that: a competition. It is not a race. For whatever reason, many interested observers are describing it as if it is a literal race. They're looking at it as if it were a 1600 meter race and Kaepernick was sitting down while Gabbert ran the first 800 meters, and is now trying to catch up before Gabbert finishes the final 800 meters. Since when do quarterback competitions work that way?

The reality of the situation is that if Chip Kelly had predetermined that he wanted Blaine Gabbert as his starter, and was not considering Colin Kaepernick at all, he had no reason not to name Gabbert as the starter at this point already. In fact, Kaepernick's sore shoulder gave him the perfect excuse if he wanted one. Nobody, even Kaepernick himself, would have had much of an argument if Kelly announced Gabbert as the starter and cited Kaepernick's inactivity as the reason. Most people would have accepted that logic. Apparently he didn't want to use that as an excuse.

The reality of the situation is that Chip Kelly wants to see how Colin Kaepernick performs on the field during the preseason, which is what he's stated all along. The error that many people are making in the way they are viewing this competition is assuming that Chip Kelly is basing his decision solely on what happens during this preseason. So by that logic, Gabbert has already played two games, and there's only one meaningful game left, so the competition must be over. Chip Kelly has watched every snap of both Kaepernick's and Gabbert's careers on film. He's been with both of them in the meeting room for an equal amount of time. Although he's seen more of Gabbert on the practice field, he has seen them both. It's illogical to believe that he's not taking both quarterbacks' entire bodies of work into consideration.

Blaine Gabbert could very well end up being named the starting quarterback of the 49ers, but if he does, it will be because Chip Kelly thinks he would put up more points than Kaepernick would, and give them the best chance to win games. It's not going to be because Gabbert jumped out to some fictional early lead like the hare vs. the tortoise. It's also not going to be because Gabbert is supposedly well-liked by his teammates.

Colin Kaepernick doesn't have to come from behind in some hypothetical race to become the 49ers starting quarterback. He merely has to step onto the field and play football at a higher level than Gabbert has, and in the process, confirm Chip Kelly's opinion of him. Because the reality is, Chip Kelly has had every opportunity in the world to name Blaine Gabbert the starting quarterback so everyone could just get on with their lives. The fact that he hasn't done that speaks volumes about what he must be thinking.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • EV
    Great article Anwar. You can disregard the unnecessary input provided by Grammar Cop. Not sure if he is a 49er fan or not.
    Aug 24, 2016 at 11:27 AM
  • NCommand
    Good topic. Your perception is not reality here there...that Kelly would have named a starter by now and had the perfect opportunity to do it given his injury. Kelly is/was true to his word. Unless Kaepernick had a serious injury, he, like Anthony Davis, would be given a fair shake and all factors would be considered before a final decision was made. Plus, there was no reason NOT to. He's got two quality QB's who could both probably play well in his offense. No rush. But you shouldn't assume that Kelly not naming Gabbert the starter already is a vote of confidence for Kaepernick. He has still yet to see Kaepernick in a game-like situation in 2016 and within his system and is merely giving him his fair due.
    Aug 24, 2016 at 9:28 AM
  • RishikeshA
    I don't buy it, I've stopped drinking the Kool-Aid. I've been waiting for Kap to make the next step, but I see the the same mistakes over and over again. He can't throw a sideline pass, he panics in the pocket, he can't see more than one receiver. His biggest advantage is the Kelly system. I hope someone makes a third or fourth offer for him. Let someone else drink the Kool-Aid.
    Aug 24, 2016 at 6:58 AM
  • BSofSF
    I disagree with your assumption that Kelly hasn't called this race because he is holding out for Kaepernick to unseat Gabbert. An equally plausible rationale is that Kelly does not want to give the appearance of not giving Kaepernick a fair shot to win the job. Even if Gabbert wins the job, Kaepernick could well play if Gabbert falters or is injured. I don't think Kelly wants to start off on the wrong foot by "reneging" on his promise for an open competition. I believe Gabbert will be named the starter and Kaepernick will get his shot if Gabbert cannot get the job done. I seriously doubt with the limited work Kaepnernick has done he is ready to assume the starting job right now. The "competition" at this point is window dressing.
    Aug 23, 2016 at 4:27 PM
  • Deacon
    Robert is exactly right. The 49ers are hoping Kaepernick looks great against the Packers. And, they're also hoping Gabbert looks great against the Packers. The team is looking for a starting QB. Gabbert is the cheaper option and they'd love for him win the job, while Kap looks good enough for some other team to trade for him and absorb his huge paycheck. The Broncos come to mind. Superbowl aspirations again with three QB's that won't lead them there. If Kap and Gabbert look like starters against the Packers I could easily see Kap being a Bronco by this time next week.
    Aug 23, 2016 at 4:22 PM
  • Grammar Cop
    "Not yet medically cleared to practice during mini-camps, Blaine Gabbert was placing a considerable amount of distance between Kaepernick and himself in the race for the job, or so the narrative went." This has a misplaced modifier. The "not yet medically cleared to practice" modifies the noun next to it, in this case Blaine Gabbert.
    Aug 23, 2016 at 3:49 PM
  • robert ethan
    What is the profit of naming Gabbert the starter early on? That kills whatever interest outsiders might have had in the 9ers pre season, for one thing. For another it kills whatever chance some other team might want to take Kaepernick off their hands along with his inflated contract. Or at least reduces them considerably. What is he worth if he's summarily dismissed as a starting candidate by the worst team in the league? Not to mention all the wailing and whining that would go on re: "Kap was never given a chance. The F.O. hates Kap and this is proof. Chip Kelly is a racist. Kap was demoted because he isn't 'easy to control'. Colin is being profiled for looking like a Muslim. Colin never had a fair chance because his birth mother gave him up for adoption".... yada yada, yada. You guys need to stop and think things through a bit before you pop off in print.
    Aug 23, 2016 at 3:19 PM
  • GM
    Anwar. Great! Piece! Very well written, balanced and thoughtful article. Although I might challenge some points, I thought this was very , very well written.
    Aug 23, 2016 at 3:18 PM

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