SANTA CLARA – After Colin Kaepernick sat out two days of practices to rest his tired throwing shoulder, the 49ers decided to give him another day of recovery instead of pushing him onto the field for the team’s exhibition opener.
“Colin isn’t 100 percent and it wouldn’t have been fair to put him in and judge him in a competition,” coach Chip Kelly said Sunday evening after the 49ers opened with a 24-13 loss to the Houston Texans at Levi's Stadium.
“We’ll try to get him healthy and get him ready for this week against Denver.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Gabbert not sharp in 49ers' loss to Texans]
This figures to be a key week for Kaepernick. When asked if there was any concern about Kaepernick’s availability for practices Wednesday and Thursday against the Broncos, Kelly answered, “That’s not what I’ve been told, but it really is a day-to-day thing.”
Kelly suggested Kaepernick’s condition is not expected to keep him out of action much longer. The 49ers return to work on Tuesday for an hourlong practice before departing for Denver.
“It’s nothing that’s a long-term thing,” Kelly said. “It’s just a day-to-day thing. He said he feels better as we go, but we’re not going to push him so we can have a proper evaluation.”
Kaepernick is in competition with Blaine Gabbert for the 49ers' starting job to open the regular season. Although Gabbert's availability through the offseason program and in Sunday's first exhibition game would appear to place him in the lead, Kelly said he wants to see Kaepernick in game action before comparing the two.
“I don’t look at it as a leg up because we’re going to judge them on their opportunities to get in there and go," Kelly said. "So if Colin gets in there and does a great job when he gets in there, I’m not going to say ‘Well, he didn’t get as many snaps as Blaine.’
"It’s still going to be judged on who moves our offensive football team the best. Who protects the football the best and gives us an opportunity to win games.”
While Kaepernick was on the sideline, Gabbert started and got off to a rough start. Gabbert missed badly on some of his throws, including incomplete short passes intended for running back Carlos Hyde on the first series.
“That first drive there were a couple balls that he probably wants back to try to get us on track, but once he settled down and got into a rhythm they did a very nice job of executing,” Kelly said.
Gabbert completed four of his 12 pass attempts for 63 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vance McDonald on his final play before exiting.
“The good thing is he did settle down,” Kelly said of Gabbert. “I thought the ball he threw to Vance was outstanding. There were some real positives you can build on. But there were some throws, as Blaine would tell you, he’s going to wish he had those back.”
Gabbert agreed with his coach’s assessment that his play – and that of the entire first-team offense – was up and down.
“We didn’t start the way we wanted to, but it was definitely nice to score a touchdown to end that third drive,” Gabbert said.
“There were ups and downs, but we saw when we got into the groove what we can do as a unit. Vance made a tremendous play after the catch.”
Thad Lewis, who was the second 49ers quarterback into the game, left in the third quarter after sustaining a lower left leg injury. Lewis was still hobbling after the game, but he promised he would be able to participate in the practices against the Broncos this week.
“It’s just a tweak, running the football,” Lewis said. “I should be fine.”
Lewis completed 12 of 21 attempts for 97 yards. He also gained 10 yards rushing on four attempts. Rookie quarterback Jeff Driskel finished the game. He completed just four of 12 passes while rushing for 61 yards on five carries.