COMMENTARY | Suggesting Blaine Gabbert could start for the San Francisco 49ers isn’t meant to be inflammatory — it’s meant to recognize that head coach Jim Harbaugh makes bold and unconventional moves.
In the middle of the 2012 season, the 49ers had a winning record with quarterback Alex Smith at the helm. According to Eric Dodds of Time, Smith’s passer rating of 104.1 ranked third in the NFL and he led the league with a 70 percent completion rate. But when Smith went down with a concussion, these stats weren’t good enough to get his job back even after being medically cleared to play.
As Smith’s replacement, Colin Kaepernick put up good numbers while beating the Chicago Bears in his first career start. In the postgame interview, via NFL.com, Harbaugh said, “I usually tend to go with the guy that has the hot hand and we have two quarterbacks that have a hot hand.”
A “hot hand” can be a fickle thing — and a “hot hand” can be achieved quickly. After all, Kaepernick only had one career start when Harbaugh described him as having a “hot hand.” That means if Kaepernick were to miss playing time for any reason, and Gabbert took the opportunity to show flashes of brilliance, we could have a quarterback controversy in San Francisco.
Gabbert’s potential can’t be adequately assessed based on his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars have had one of the league’s worst ranked offensive lines the last couple years, which is of prime importance to a pocket passer like Gabbert.
Given at least a little time in the pocket, Gabbert could show why he was the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft. Before he was drafted, Brian Billick of Fox Sports summed up Gabbert by describing him as an “outstanding athlete who shows great leadership and intelligence on the field…I struggle to crown him franchise ready from Day 1 like Matt Ryan was. I think he can get there, but there will be much more of a transition period.”
Gabbert’s transition period is just beginning — apprentice Gabbert, meet master Harbaugh, the quarterback guru who primed the likes of Andrew Luck in college and turned around the career of Smith in the NFL.
Under the guidance of Harbaugh, it’d be interesting to see what Gabbert could do with a solid offensive line; some veteran weapons like Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree; and a veteran running back and great blocker in Frank Gore.
The 49ers are stacked with talent, but they don’t currently have a quarterback with a “hot hand.” Kaepernick has “hot legs,” to be sure, but he hasn’t shown consistency with the passing game. Like Gabbert, Kaepernick is a gifted young athlete with tons of potential. Given the great potential of both these athletes, either quarterback could develop a “hot hand.” We’ve seen that Harbaugh will go with the “hot hand” at any time, so we can’t dismiss the possibility that Harbaugh could make another bold, unconventional move.