SANTA CLARA – Blaine Gabbert came into the NFL at 22 years old after bypassing his final season of college. As the No. 10 pick in the draft, he was expected to become the franchise quarterback of a struggling organization.
But that never happened. After just 27 starts with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Gabbert was shipped off to the 49ers prior to last season for a sixth-round draft pick. And he was never seen as a key piece of the 49ers’ puzzle – until now.
Coach Jim Tomsula informed Gabbert on Monday that he would take over for struggling Colin Kaepernick on Sunday when the 49ers face the Atlanta Falcons at Levi's Stadium. On the outside, Gabbert is not saddled with the same expectations he experienced in Jacksonville. But he said he tries to not let outside influences change his approach.
“I wouldn’t say I felt outside pressure there,” Gabbert said on Wednesday during his first meeting with the media as the 49ers’ starter. "I think pressure is what you apply on yourself. You put it on yourself to succeed because you know you’re better than how you’re playing. You know you’re better than the way you’re performing. You put pressure on yourself to do better.
“It’s kind of a different situation here, being a veteran now. But at the same time, pressure is on to prepare the right way, get all the looks in practice and just go out play well.”
During his time with the Jaguars, Gabbert completed just 53.3 percent of his passing attempts with 22 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. His passer rating was 66.4.
Gabbert said he believes he is a lot better equipped to handle the position of lining up as a starting quarterback after facing the struggles with the Jaguars, then sitting for a season-and-a-half behind Kaepernick and continuing to learn the game.
“Going into my fifth year, just the experiences I’ve had preparing for games, playing in games, starting in games, being a backup quarterback,” Gabbert said. “It’s valuable over time to have those repetitions in practice and on the game field.”
Gabbert completed three of his seven pass attempts with a touchdown strike to Bruce Ellington in mop-up duty last season against the Denver Broncos. This season, he did not step on the field at any point during the first eight games of the season.
Instead, Gabbert said he has taken a limited number of practice snaps with the first-team offense but has tried to get a lot out of running the opposition’s plays against the 49ers’ first-team defense.
“When you’re the starting quarterback, you get the majority of the reps,” Gabbert said. “But a couple plays here and there at the end of the period, I’d go in. But the way I approached practice is I’d take the scout team as my opportunity to get reps. So when we were doing the scout team huddles, I’d call our terminology and our protections.”
Gabbert said he tried to always prepare as if he were the starting quarterback – just in case he were pressed into duty during a game if he had to replace Kaepernick for any reason.
On Monday, he received the word that he would be taking over – for at least one game.
“It’s always a funny deal in the NFL when you hear your number called because you never know when it’s going to be,” Gabbert said. “That’s why you have to stick to your routine and always be prepared because like they always say, ‘You’re one play from play and you’re one play away from not playing.’”