Blaine Gabbert remains the 49ers’ starting quarterback a day after he threw two late interceptions, completed fewer than half his passes and had trouble sustaining drives.
“He’s our starter. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Blaine,” coach Chip Kelly said Monday, a day after his team fell 46-27 to the Carolina Panthers. “We’re not thinking or talking about not having Blaine in there. It’s about everybody on offense playing better right now.”
Gabbert was 17 of 36 for 243 yards and two touchdowns, including a 75-yarder to tight end Vance McDonald. The 49ers’ push for a fourth-quarter upset, however, fizzled when Gabbert threw interceptions in San Francisco territory on consecutive drives.
Gabbert is averaging 5.8 yards per pass attempt. The only starter in the NFL with a lower average is the Los Angeles Rams’ Case Keenum at 5.7 yards per attempt.
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One of Gabbert’s turnovers came on a pass to newcomer Jeremy Kerley. The other was to Torrey Smith, who caught only three of 10 passes thrown his way.
“None of the chemistry is where we want it,” Gabbert said after the game. “That’s something that kind of builds as the year progresses. We (Gabbert and Kerley) have to continue to work together in practice and build that relationship to where when I see something, he sees the exact same thing, and we’re on the same page.”
Kelly said Gabbert’s struggles were partly due to the 49ers’ weak running game and inability to use any play-action element.
A week after running back Carlos Hyde scored two touchdowns and his backup, Shaun Draughn, scored one, the 49ers’ only rushing touchdown Sunday came on Gabbert’s 1-yard quarterback keeper. The 49ers finished with 65 yards on the ground. Carolina, meanwhile, lost its top running back, Jonathan Stewart, to a hamstring injury early in the game but still finished with 176 rushing yards.
Kelly said his team’s blockers never found the right balance between concentrating on the Panthers’ star inside linebackers, Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, and their defensive linemen. One lineman, Star Lotulelei, had a sack. Another, Kawann Short, had a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and a quarterback hit.
Another reason to keep Gabbert under center, Kelly said: Backup Colin Kaepernick is not back to his ideal playing weight, about 225 pounds.
“I think people still forget – he had a thumb, a shoulder and a knee (surgery),” Kelly said. “Usually if you have a knee (problem), you can lift with your upper body. Or if you have a shoulder, you can lift with your lower body. But he really was out of the weight room for six to eight months.”
Kelly said he didn’t know Kaepernick’s current weight. As the backup, Kaepernick received about a quarter of the team’s practice snaps in the run-up to Sunday’s game.
“He’s done a nice job in practice,” Kelly said. “He doesn’t get as many reps as he did when we were in preseason camp when everything was split right down the middle (with Gabbert). Again, one of the things with Blaine, we need to get him reps so he’s comfortable with that group.”