Alex Smith wasn’t the answer.
That was the view of so-called “experts” in 2011 when Jim Harbaugh initially took over the San Francisco 49ers. Many pundits believed that the team had to go in a different direction, and would look to get a quarterback in the first round of the draft to replace the underachieving Smith.
One of the players that were rumored to be on the 49ers’ radar at the time was Missouri signal caller Blaine Gabbert.
Harbaugh had different ideas though, and the 49ers approached the draft with the notion that Smith could be turned around and provide a short-term answer at quarterback (he was right). Instead of jumping the gun, San Francisco stayed true to their draft board and selected linebacker Aldon Smith with the No. 7 overall pick. They waited until the second round to take their quarterback of the future, Colin Kaepernick.
Gabbert was taken three spots after Smith by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Three years have passed, and a lot has changed since then. Alex Smith did indeed have a successful run with the 49ers before being traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. The reason he was dealt was because of the emergence of Kaepernick, who is now San Francisco’s franchise quarterback.
As for Gabbert, his life in the NFL has been a train wreck so far, but he finds himself in a new situation in hopes of reviving his career. Ironically, it’s in San Francisco, the place some thought he would have ended up in the first place.
The 49ers are taking a chance on Gabbert, and hope that Harbaugh can do for him what he has done for many other quarterbacks: make him a better player.
So far, Harbaugh feels he’s making strides towards that.
“Very impressed with Blaine mentally, physically – all attributes that you’d like to see in a quarterback,” said Harbaugh during minicamp.“He’s been very good, very solid. (He’s) picked up everything very quickly. It’s going well. Everything is progressing well.”
The news that Gabbert is off to a good start (albeit a very early one) is reassuring considering the 49ers may only be one hit on Kaepernick away from handing him the reigns to a Super Bowl-ready roster.
Gabbert never found his game in Jacksonville, struggling from the word go. He started 27 games over three seasons, posting a 5-22 record. Last season was especially bad as he seemed to regress across the board. In three starts (all losses) Gabbert completed less then 49 percent of this throws and threw seven interceptions. He would be traded to the 49ers in the offseason, only three years after he was the 10th overall selection in the draft.
Granted, despite his individual troubles, Gabbert was in put in a tough spot on a Jaguars’ team with little around him. He looks at his past as a learning experience and admits being with an new organization could help change his fortunes.
“It’s definitely a different vibe with a new organization, but I really took a lot from my three years in Jacksonville and learned a lot, saw a lot,” Gabbert said. “I’m just trying to use those experienced to help me moving forward.”
Because of his spotty track record, Gabbert is not exactly guaranteed to be the team’s backup. He will face competition in camp from McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Josh Johnson and undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner. The preseason will be important for Gabbert, and he’ll get to show what he can do as Kaepernick won’t play much in the exhibitions.
In a perfect world, Gabbert wouldn’t see the field in any situation sans mop up duty. Still, him playing well early would have a calming effect on the entire franchise, giving them confidence with him behind center should an emergency situation occur.
Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
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