Quarterback Blaine Gabbert’s first appearances with the 49ers were decidedly unimpressive during last year’s exhibition season.
Then, he made a brief appearance during the regular season in a mop-up role and accounted for the team’s only fourth-quarter touchdown pass of the season.
But what Gabbert did behind the scenes is the reason the 49ers re-signed him to a two-year, $4 million contract that includes a $500,000 signing bonus. That’s the kind of contract that provides convincing proof the organization expects Gabbert, 25, to be the primary backup to starter Colin Kaepernick once again.
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"I think he’s a talented quarterback,” 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said of Gabbert at the NFL owners meetings this week in Phoenix. “Fantastic guy. . . . He’s young.
"He can run. He can throw. He’s real smart. If you’re around the guy, you see the intangibles. You see the makeup.”
Gabbert entered the NFL at the age of 20 as the No. 10 overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2011 draft. He started 14 games as a rookie, completing just 50.8 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
"He was drafted high, and he came into the NFL and, boom, he was the starting guy,” Tomsula said. “It’s tough. I’m going to speak about what he’s done at our place. I watch him every day on the practice field.”
Gabbert started just 13 games the next two seasons with Jacksonville before he was shipped to the 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick. Gabbert, whose $2 million contract last year was fully guaranteed, was named the backup quarterback ahead of Josh Johnson. On the surface, Gabbert did little to win the job, completing less than 50 percent of his pass attempts in the exhibition season.
But Tomsula said what convinced the 49ers to re-sign him as an unrestricted free agent was the way he developed during the season behind closed doors on the practice field. Gabbert got into one regular-season game and completed three of seven attempts for 38 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington, in a loss to the Denver Broncos.
"He had a rough preseason and he went through the season and you keep watching the development and watching what’s going on,” Tomsula said. “The Denver game, he got in and did some nice things. He had some really nice snaps, and you can see what you’re watching in practice show up in a game.”
The 49ers are expected to add two more quarterbacks to take part in the offseason program and training camp. The 49ers offseason program begins April 6.