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HOUSTON -– Coach Jim Harbaugh made it clear where he stands. Now, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke gets the final say.
After Josh Johnson threw as many touchdown passes as incompletions in the 49ers’ 40-13 victory over the Houston Texans to conclude the exhibition sesason, Harbaugh said he has seen enough to convince him Johnson deserves a roster spot.
“I’ve been convinced of that for a while,” Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh also praised backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who overcame a rough start and a banged-up right shoulder to lead the 49ers into the end zone on his final pass of the game. Gabbert underwent X-rays after the game, but he said he was fine.
If the 49ers keep three quarterbacks on the roster, there will be jobs for both Gabbert and Johnson.
“I’d really like to,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve done that most of the time.”
The 49ers finished last season with two quarterbacks. The team’s decision to release McLeod Bethel-Thompson last week left the 49ers with three quarterbacks on their 75-man roster.
Gabbert entered camp as the No. 2 quarterback after the 49ers acquired him for a sixth-round draft pick and picked up his guaranteed $2 million contract. Harbaugh declined to state whether he has reconsidered Gabbert as the No. 2 quarterback after Johnson’s solid exhibition season.
Johnson completed 14-of-17 passes for 135 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, which Texans cornerback Andre Hal returned 77 yards for a touchdown. Gabbert completed just 4-of-11 attempts for 60 yards and a touchdown.
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The deadline for teams to reduce their rosters to the 53-player regular-season limit is Saturday. Two years ago, Johnson received bad news as the 49ers decided to go with Scott Tolzien as the No. 3 quarterback.
“Felt like I’ve grown as a player every year,” Johnson said. “Last year I was able to really start putting my ability on the field more, being a dual threat. This year, I felt real comfortable, just staying in rhythm and getting the job done as a quarterback. Not trying to do too much, just taking what the defense gives me and moving the chains.”
Since the 49ers released Johnson at the final cuts two years ago, he played with the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals released him in May. Johnson said he tried to block the looming roster decision from his mind.
“All I was worried about was my performance. Everything on my behalf is all about performance,” Johnson said. “I don’t put the roster together. I don’t determine the depth chart. All I can determine is my performance. And I felt like I was able to make a strong case to be on this team.”
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Johnson hit reserve tight end Kyle Nelson on touchdown passes of 5 and 2 yards. He also found Bruce Ellington for a 13-yard touchdown. Johnson’s best throw was a 49-yarder down the right sideline that Lance Lewis caught in stride.
Gabbert completed just one of his first six pass attempts before connecting with tight end Derek Carrier for 32 yards in a tight window along the left sideline. He finished with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Asante Cleveland after Harbaugh wanted to take him out of the game due to a right shoulder injury.
“Yeah, it was just one of those deals, we moved the ball down to the red zone, and I just didn’t want to come out,” Gabbert said. “Competitive juices. I wanted to finish the drive with a touchdown. All those things were kind of going through my mind, and I didn’t want to come out.”
With a deep roster and a lot of competition at other spots, it’s still not a certainty that the 49ers will keep three quarterbacks on their regular-season roster. Baalke has contractual control over the team’s 53-man roster.