The similarities are abundant, right down to the shoulder injury that washed out Blaine Gabbert’s second season.
The newest 49ers quarterback said Friday he seeks stability after a shaky start to his NFL career, and he figures the best landing spot is where another high-profile 49ers passer who was knocked around early in his career finally found his footing.
“You always hear the comparisons,” Gabbert said of Alex Smith, with whom he trained a year ago. “Alex is a great quarterback, and he’s done extremely well in Kansas City. And he’s a guy that you look at and you like to emulate – seeing the struggles he went through early in his career with all the changes that were going on around him and the way he’s persevered through injuries, through all those changes to put himself in the position he’s in now and take their team to the playoffs.”
Smith, a former No. 1 overall draft pick, dealt with two season-ending shoulder injuries and a revolving door at offensive coordinator before 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff gave him some consistency in 2011. His passer rating – 67.3 to that point – jumped to 90.7 that season, and Smith led the 49ers to within overtime of going to the Super Bowl. Gabbert’s career passer rating is 66.4.
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Gabbert also was a high draft pick, 10th overall by Jacksonville in 2011. He and Smith are the same height (6-foot-4), they are mobile, and they played in read-option offenses in college. They both wear No. 11, and they commiserated in San Diego last year about their rocky starts.
Kansas City backup Chase Daniel preceded Gabbert at Missouri, and he suggested that Gabbert train with him, Smith and Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
Smith’s message: Don’t allow the tumult to shake your focus or dim your work ethic.
“Your mindset has to be the same every offseason,” Gabbert said. “You have to attack it the same way, learning the playbook as if it were new. Because it’s going to be a new one this year, so I’m going to have to attack it and learn it.”
Gabbert’s NFL start may have been even rougher than Smith’s.
Smith won 11 of his first 27 starts, but Gabbert has only five wins in the same number of starts. He has dealt with torn cartilage in his non-throwing shoulder, a fractured thumb, a lacerated hand and a forearm injury that ended his 2013 season and allowed Chad Henne to take over as the starter.
On Tuesday, the 49ers dealt a sixth-round pick for Gabbert, who now gets to learn under the same coach who developed Josh Johnson, Andrew Luck, Smith and Colin Kaepernick.
“The consistency he’s brought to this organization, and having success with Alex Smith and now Colin – he’s got a great track record with quarterbacks,” Gabbert said.
Gabbert said he’s been training in Tampa, Fla., but plans to move to the Bay Area as quickly as possible to begin acclimating himself to the team’s facility and learning the playbook.
He already has a head start in one sense. He said he ran the read-option at Missouri and Jacksonville and even remembers studying Kaepernick and the “pistol” formation when Kaepernick was at Nevada.
“It adds another dimension to the offense,” he said.