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In Jim Harbaugh’s first offseason as 49ers coach, he convinced Alex Smith that he could achieve a fresh start if he remained with the organization.
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert is looking for a similar fresh start with a move across the country to serve as a backup on Harbaugh’s team.
Gabbert spoke Friday about the high level of play Smith and Colin Kaepernick both experienced in the 49ers’ offense since Harbaugh became coach in 2011.
“He’s got a great track record with quarterbacks and he’s a guy who’s played in the NFL for a long time and had a lot of success,” Gabbert said of Harbaugh in a conference call with Bay Area reporters. “He’s another asset I can use to help myself get better and in return help this team in any way possible.”
The 49ers acquired Gabbert on Tuesday from the Jacksonville Jaguars for a sixth-round draft pick. The deal could also include a conditional pick in 2015, contingent on Gabbert’s play time this season, Jaguars general manager David Caldwell said.
“I was excited for a new opportunity out here, going to a great team and a great organization,” Gabbert said. “It was an opportunity for a fresh start. You don’t find those very often in this football league, so when I initially heard, I was excited just to come out here and get things rolling.”
Gabbert’s early career is following a similar path to what Smith experienced with the 49ers. Smith did not have the same offensive coordinator for two full seasons in a row until Harbaugh and Greg Roman arrived.
In coming to the 49ers, Gabbert will be with his fourth coordinator in four seasons. Gabbert said he spoke with Smith about experiencing that kind of upheaval last offseason when the two worked out together, along with Drew Brees and Chase Daniel, in San Diego.
“It was kind of a unique what he went through,” Gabbert said of Smith. “It’s something I started going through and was going through at that time. Your mindset has to be the same every offseason. You have to attack it the same way, learning the playbook as if it were new. Because it’s going to be new one this year, so I’m going to have to attack it and learn it.”
Gabbert is virtually guaranteed to be the 49ers’ backup quarterback this season behind Kaepernick. He sent Kaepernick a text after the trade was complete to tell him how much he looked forward to working with him, he said. Gabbert said he even has some familiarity with running the read option, which was a weekly a part of the Jaguars' playbook last season.
Gabbert lost his starting job to Chad Henne last season after exiting the lineup with an injury. In three seasons, he completed just 53.3 percent of his passes with 22 interceptions and 24 touchdowns and a 66.4 passer rating in 27 starts. It’s quite a fall for a player chosen at No. 10 overall in the 2011 draft.
“I think you throw your egos aside immediately when you get to the NFL because everybody starts at the bottom and you have to work your way up,” Gabbert said. “When I was traded here, I’m going to attack the position I’m in still competing every day and put my best foot forward.”