San Francisco 49ers Preview: Colin Kaepernick on bench for opener

By Dave Del Grande, The Sports Xchange
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is run out of bounds by the St. Louis Rams in the fourth quarter at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on November 1, 2015. St. Louis defeated San Francisco 27-6. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is run out of bounds by the St. Louis Rams in the fourth quarter at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on November 1, 2015. St. Louis defeated San Francisco 27-6. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Blaine Gabbert will open the season as the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback.

But the real winner as opening day approaches is ... the 49ers as a whole.


With Colin Kaepernick recovering from three surgeries and later coming up with a sore arm, the fact that Gabbert was selected by new head coach Chip Kelly to be his starter next Monday night against the Los Angeles Rams was not a surprise.

It was a little more surprising to hear that the Rams celebrated No. 1 pick, Cal's Jared Goff will also be on the bench as a third stringer for his home-area NFL debut (from Novato, Calif). Maybe the two can battle each other in Madden


Football while the game rages on.

But the real surprise of the offseason was this: San Francisco, one of the least talented teams in the NFL, actually has a chance to win that opening game.

As expected, the NFL is making a big deal about the Rams' first regular-season game since leaving St. Louis, scheduling them for ESPN's national telecast as the nightcap of the Monday doubleheader.

And in doing so, they've done the 49ers a huge favor.

The Rams will share the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with Southern Cal until their new stadium is built. With the Trojans playing at home this weekend, the Rams were sent on the road for their 2016 debut.

The 49ers were more than happy to take advantage.

So the 49ers, with Gabbert running the show and Kaepernick on standby as the backup, won't be the big underdog they would have been if they were guests at the Rams' coming out party.

Instead, they are listed as just a slight underdog against a Rams team some believe will challenge the 49ers for worst-in-the-NFC honors.

The matchup is similar to last year's opener when the 49ers hosted -- and beat -- the then lightly regarded Minnesota Vikings, 20-3.


It was one of just five wins the 49ers had under first-year coach Jim Tomsula, who was fired at season's end.

Enter Kelly, who gets to open at night against a fellow weakling.

The same club, in fact, the 49ers beat 19-16 the last time they took the Levi's Stadium field for a regular-season game -- last year's finale.

Gabbert threw for a season-best 354 yards that day.

If Gabbert is excited about the opportunity, Kelly said he didn't show it Saturday upon getting the good news about the start.

"It was very matter of fact to him," Kelly said, "and let's go to work."

Kelly was asked what separated Gabbert from Kaepernick, each of whom made at least seven starts for Tomsula last season.

"The whole body of work from April until today," the coach responded. "He's a good fit for what we want to get accomplished, and I have a lot of confidence in what he can do for us offensively."

Kelly assured that Kaepernick would be ready to go if called upon in the opener to come on in relief, but maybe not 100 percent ready physically to start an NFL game.


"Kap is still ... coming out and getting himself ready," Kelly said. "He has been cleared to play, but he still knows he has some work to do. He's not up to his playing weight that he was when he was successful here. He'll continue to work on that.

"He missed a couple weeks with the arm, and that set him back a little bit in terms of his ability to compete for it. But the timetable is the timetable. And right now we feel like Blaine is the starter."

--The 49ers decided to keep three quarterbacks, with No. 49ers decided to keep three quarterbacks, with No. being veteran Christian Ponder. When they waived quarterback Jeff Driskell he was alimed off waivers by Cincinnati.

Driskel, a sixth-round pick in May, was outplayed by Ponder during the preseason. Kelly said the volatility of the quarterback position led the club to err on the side of being conservative when it came to choosing a third guy.

"I've always kept three," he said. "You need three in this league with the injury rate of quarterbacks. I've never been comfortable keeping two."

The 49ers could have put Driskel on the practice squad if he cleare waivers.


--There was some surprise when the 49ers cut second-year outside linebacker Marcus Rush, who was the club's most productive defensive player in the preseason. However, the 25-year-old Rush went unclaimed and the 49ers put him on the practice squad for a second year. Rush led the NFL in sacks during the preseason with six.

In including Rush, the 49ers announced nine players they signed to the practice squad. The others were running back Kelvin Taylor, wide receiver Dres Anderson, tight end Je'Ron Hamm, center Alex Balducci, guards Fahn Cooper and Norman Price, inside linebacker Shayne Skov and cornerback Prince Charles Iworah.

The team did not announce a 10th player to fill out the practice squad, but wide receiver Chris Harper, who cleared waivers after being cut by the New England Patriots, tweeted that he will be on the 49ers practice squad.

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