49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert is currently leading the team’s training camp competition over Colin Kaepernick, though not by much. With all the change in San Francisco and being led by master-mind head coach Chip Kelly, could this be the year that Gabbert validates his No. 10 overall draft position from 2011 en route to a Pro Bowl selection?
The San Francisco 49ers opened training camp on Sunday and there has actually been some positive news.
For starters, Day 1 news included everyone finding out that the 49ers will be practicing at 10 a.m. PT during camp, according to Zain Naqvi of 49erswebzone.com. The team is doing this because they play five games on the East Coast this coming season, and those games start at 1 p.m. ET or 10 a.m. PT.
This is smart on new head coach Chip Kelly’s part, because teams that don’t win on the road in the NFL just don’t win, period.
Day 2 news featured two players who should be astounding to watch this season. Those players are cornerback Jimmie Ward and defensive end Arik Armstead. While Ward was enjoying a 20-yard pick-six of starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert, Armstead was busy recording two would-be stops behind the offense’s line of scrimmage, all this according to Taylor Price of 49ers.com.
Speaking of Gabbert, this article is about him. So most of you are probably wondering, how could he possibly make a Pro Bowl appearance in 2016?
The 49ers 2016 Schedule
According to Tyler Emerick’s April 14 post on 49ers.com, the team owns the league’s toughest schedule based on its opponents’ win-percentage carryover from 2015. Yikes!
But all hope is not lost. These are just numbers. Numbers, mind you, that are from last year. Things are ever-changing and fluid in the NFL.
Look at the 49ers themselves. They went from three-straight NFC Championship game appearances to the NFC West’s worst team, at 5-11 in 2015, in just two years.
Then there is the example featuring the 2003 Carolina Panthers. In 2002, the team went 7-9, which was good for fourth place in the newly dubbed NFC South division. They followed it up with a first-place 11-5 finish and a Super Bowl appearance the following year.
So, doesn’t the old saying, “you never know,” apply here? Besides the fact that it always does, when you’re human, Gabbert may not be facing the 15-1 Super Bowl-losing Panthers from 2015, but rather a beatable 10-6 Panther squad in Week 2 of 2016. That’s what makes the NFL exciting for fans. It is always a new season every year.
The Return of Offensive Tackle Anthony Davis
49ers offensive tackle Anthony Davis is back, folks! The now 332-pound Davis applied for reinstatement to the league on July 25 after a 13-month hiatus, according to Marc Sessler of NFL.com. He was officially reinstated on July 30 and joined the team this past Sunday, according to the Associated Press (h/t foxsports.com).
Now, I point out his weight because Davis himself says that, in 2014, he played between 365 and 370 pounds. That is insane! Being listed between 320 and 335 pounds for most of his career, Davis was obviously too big, and that may have contributed to some of his health issues.
Regardless, he is still a warm sight for San Francisco. The 49ers’ right side of the offensive line struggled mightily in 2015. Guard Jordan Devey and tackle Eric Pears were awful in replacement of Davis and Alex Boone, who was filling in for left guard Mike Iupati after he signed with the Arizona Cardinals in free agency.
But to the point, Davis gives Gabbert a great chance to throw from a clean pocket, and he’ll almost assuredly be the starting right tackle within a couple of weeks, especially if he’s in as good of shape as all the chatter suggests. Now the 49ers line can look like this:
- Left Tackle — Joe Staley (An All-Pro Player)
- Left Guard — Zane Beadles (Former Pro Bowler, maybe revisited?)
- Center — Daniel Kilgore (Top 12 in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus) (PFF Subscription required)
- Right Guard — Joshua Garnett (Rookie Big Mauler)
- Right Tackle — A.D. Himself
Not bad! This line can anchor Kelly’s rushing attack and provide stability for Gabbert in the passing game.
Chip Kelly and his Coaching Style
It’s no secret that the 49ers wide receivers and quarterbacks are “unproven” at best. But that’s no big deal to Kelly.
In 2013, Kelly made recently released quarterback Nick Foles look a lot like Aaron Rodgers with his 27-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Again, he did it in 2014 by making former New York Jets bust Mark “Sanchize” Sanchez look in control of the football field.
Kelly also has great success with mediocre wide receivers much like he does with quarterbacks who are nothing special. Consider Riley Cooper, who had over 800 yards in one season under Kelly. Cooper is a decent player, but he isn’t great. Coach Kelly’s spacing concepts just put players in great positions.
So then, why can’t wide receivers Torrey Smith, Bruce Ellington, DeAndre Smelter, Eric Rogers and even Quinton Patton or Jerome Simpson outperform their “bust” and “inconsistent” labels? Under any other coach they couldn’t, but Kelly’s style and innovation give everyone a chance.
And Gabbert has that chance too.
Gabbert’s Fit in Kelly’s Offense
So, most think that Kaeperick is Kelly’s guy at quarterback. Well, I’m here to tell you that is not the case.
It’s probably the worst-kept secret that Kelly prefers Gabbert to Kap. But, why is that?
Kaepernick can run wild on NFL defenses, and he’s still one of the best at it, but Gabbert can run well too. Gabbert, though, does things Kaepernick either can’t or doesn’t want to. Niner Noise’s Robert Smith wrote about Gabbert’s ability to run offenses efficiently in his article Why Blaine Gabbert Will Win 49ers Starting Quarterback Battle.
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See, all offseason we’ve heard experts disagree on how Kelly’s offense works best. Some say a running quarterback does the trick, while others say Kelly wants a passer who can run his scheme efficiently. And that’s the secret, as well as where Gabbert will win the battle. Gabbert gets rid of the football, while Kap holds it. But politics and money could swing things Kap’s way.
If Gabbert holds Kaepernick off, under Kelly he could be a Pro Bowl passer.