Niners Hope Gabbert Can Regain Form

Young quarterback regressed in his third season for Jaguars, but 49ers believe he has talent to succeed

This NFL offseason has been a big one for quarterbacks playing musical chairs.

Among the biggest moves: Michael Vick went to the Jets, Mark Sanchez made a deal with the Eagles, Josh McCown was signed by the Bucs and the Raiders traded for Matt Schaub.

But in his analysis of the 10 most significant quarterback moves since the end of the season, Sports Illustrated's Don Banks includes this one: the 49ers’ trade for Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

The Niners acquired Gabbert for a sixth-round pick, plus a conditional draft choice next season. Gabbert now is penciled in as the backup for starter Colin Kaepernick in 2014, taking over from Colt McCoy, who was allowed to leave in free agency.

“In reality, the 49ers made a low-risk bet on the quarterback who went 10th overall in 2011, then flamed out in spectacular fashion for Jacksonville, going just 5-22 as a starter,” wrote Banks, who believes Gabbert can rebuild his career under head coach Jim Harbaugh.

“(Gabbert’s) career trajectory isn’t much different from that of ex-49ers No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, and we all know how much Harbaugh’s presence seemd to revive Smith’s game in 2011 and the first half of ’12,” wrote Banks. “If Gabbert can duplicate that example and save a career that appeared all but lost, he’s still young enough at 24 to earn a long-term opportunity somewhere in the league, even if it’s as a veteran backup.”

Gabbert lost his job in Jacksonville to Chad Henne and seemed to regress the more he played for the Jaguars. In 2013, he started just three games – all losses – and threw seven interceptions against just one TD. In those three games he was sacked 12 times.

After a 77.4 quarterback rating in 2012 – when he threw nine TD passes vs. six picks and completed 58.3 percent of his passes – Gabbert’s rating plummeted to 36.0.

Because the cast around him wasn’t very good in Jacksonville, Gabbert often looked shaky in his three seasons as a Jag. As Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle noted in a recent story, longtime NFL exec Mike Lombardi said Gabbert looked “scared” and seemed unwilling to “hang in the pocket” against a strong pass rush. Former NFL coach and current TV analyst Jon Gruden also echoed those sentiments on a “Monday Night Football” broadcast.

But former NFL defensive end Jeff Lageman, a Jaguars radio broadcaster, told Branch he questions those accusations. Lageman noted he saw instances when Gabbert demonstrated toughness, and believes in the right environment he can regain his form.

“I think when he shows up with the 49ers he’s going to impress people with his arm and his accuracy,” Lageman told Branch. “They’re going to be watching him practice and they’re going to go, ‘Holy (bleep), we only gave up a sixth-round pick for this guy?”

Soon after the trade, Gabbert seemed happy to be headed west for a chance to play with the 49ers after three tough seasons in Florida, and talked about his eagerness to be coached by Harbaugh and his staff.

“He’s had success with Alex Smith and now Colin,” Gabbert told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. “He’s another asset I can use to get better and in return help this team in any way possible.”

It certainly seems like a low-risk, high-reward move for the 49ers.

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