Editor’s note: Insider Matt Maiocco will analyze each position group leading up to 49ers training camp. The full squad reports on July 30 with the first practice scheduled for July 31.
Let the competition begin.
Colin Kaepernick flew to Colorado on Tuesday for a final checkup with his surgeon, Dr. Peter Millett, at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado. As expected, Kaepernick was given full clearance to participate in training camp without any restrictions.
The 49ers are scheduled to report to camp in Santa Clara on Saturday. The first practice is slated for Sunday.
Kaepernick participated in every element of the 49ers’ mandatory June minicamp except for most 11-on-11 work. He has spent most of the team’s time off continuing his rehabilitation at the 49ers’ training facility. He underwent surgery on his left shoulder in November, followed by procedures on his right thumb and left knee shortly after the season.
Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert will compete for the starting job during coach Chip Kelly’s first camp in charge of the 49ers.
Which quarterback is the best fit for Kelly’s scheme?
Kelly featured dual-threat quarterbacks during his ultra-successful run at Oregon. He named Michael Vick as the starter to open his first season with the Philadelphia Eagles before settling on Nick Foles. But other than Vick, Kelly's quarterbacks in the NFL have been pocket passers.
So what does Kelly want from his quarterback? He provided his most succinct description when asked that question in 2013, his first season with the Eagles: “I want a quarterback who has the ability to run and not a running back who can throw.”
Kaepernick is more of a threat with his legs. Gabbert has a quicker release. Kaepernick has completed 59.9 percent of his pass attempts while making 47 regular-season starts. Gabbert, a 55.8 percent passer in his 35 NFL starts, completed a career-high 63.1 percent of his attempts last season.
In the past, Kelly has leaned toward an offense that sends five receiving options into pass routes. With just five available blockers, the quarterback who diagnoses and makes the quickest, smartest decisions and delivers the ball on target will win the job.
How much will leadership and the thoughts of the locker room factor into the competition?
Although Kelly was not close to the situation last season, he is well aware of the dynamics. The feeling around the 49ers is that Kaepernick generally shut himself off to teammates. Gabbert won over his teammates off the field.
Kaepernick requested a trade in the offseason – he said, to keep explore his options. He ultimately decided to refuse a dramatic pay cut from the Denver Broncos and return to the 49ers under his current contract. (The 49ers and Broncos already had the parameters of a trade in place, sources have suggested to CSNBayArea.com.)
It is widely believed that the onus is on Kaepernick to prove that he’s a significantly better option than Gabbert. Kelly must determine which quarterback gives the 49ers the best chance of winning games. If it’s a close call, Gabbert is the front-runner to get the nod.
How does the race for the No. 3 job shape up?
The first move the 49ers made at the start of free agency was the addition of Thad Lewis, who served most of last season as Kelly’s No. 3 quarterback. He is 28 and has not appeared in an NFL game since 2013.
Rookie Jeff Driskel showed his impressive physical skills after the 49ers selected him in the sixth round of the draft. It’s possible the 49ers retain just two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster with Driskel on the practice squad. But if he performs well and there’s any fear that another team might claim him, Driskel would likely stick on the active roster.