Jim Tomsula on Wednesday said he wants Colin Kaepernick to “step back and breathe” but suggested the embattled 49ers quarterback isn’t necessarily benched for the rest of the season.
The coach said he felt he needed to extricate Kaepernick from the “pile” that seemed to grow more crushing with every 49ers loss.
“That position gets way more credit than it should when you win and it gets way more junk than it should when you lose,” he said. “That pile just keeps getting bigger. And I want him out of there. This is a guy that I care about a lot. This is a guy that I respect a lot. This is a guy that I think has talent. This is just me, what I’m watching and what I’m feeling. And I want him to just step back, keep working, do your thing and move forward.”
The 49ers officially acknowledged that Blaine Gabbert will start Sunday’s game against Atlanta. But Tomsula stopped short of saying Gabbert will be the starter the rest of the way. That raises the possibility of Kaepernick retaining his starting role at some point over the final eight games.
“It’s this week,” Tomsula said. “Going into Atlanta, Blaine Gabbert will be our quarterback.”
I’m just taking it as a chance to go out there and just prove to this team what I can do.
Blaine Gabbert, 49ers quarterback
Kaepernick, 28, did not speak to the media at a midweek news conference, the first time that’s happened since he relieved a concussed Alex Smith on Nov. 19, 2012. That duty went to Gabbert, who said he is fine with a week-by-week evaluation.
“I’m just taking it as a chance to go out there and just prove to this team what I can do,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to go out there and play against a good Atlanta football team and, like I said, I’m just going to go out there and enjoy this. It’s fun to play ball again, especially in the regular season, and we’ve just got to get something going on offense.”
The 10th pick in the 2011 draft, Gabbert, 26, hasn’t started a regular-season game since Oct. 6, 2013, when he was with Jacksonville. He injured his hamstring in that game and was benched later that season in favor of Chad Henne.
Gabbert had a dubious 54 passer rating during the 2014 preseason with San Francisco – at one point drawing boos from 49ers fans – but doubled it to 108.8 during this past preseason. Restoring Gabbert’s confidence was one of the offseason projects of quarterbacks coach Steve Logan and offensive coordinator Geep Chryst, and the team felt they succeeded.
“Blaine’s been here for two years, and I’ve watched Blaine get better every day,” Tomsula said.
Gabbert’s issues with the Jaguars included a porous offensive line, and he was sacked 74 times in 27 starts. He acknowledged the 49ers’ problems are similar to what he experienced in Jacksonville. San Francisco has allowed the third-most sacks this season.
Tomsula hinted there might be other changes to a 49ers offense that ranks last in the league in yards gained and points scored but declined to describe them.
“We’re going through a little rough patch here, and I’ve been through plenty of those in Jacksonville,” he said. “The biggest thing that we have to focus on is just sticking to our routine, sticking to our guns, going out and having great practices and carrying over that practice to the game.”
Tomsula hinted there might be other changes to a 49ers offense that ranks last in the league in yards gained and points scored but declined to elaborate.
The 49ers won’t have their longtime No. 1 tight end, Vernon Davis, who was traded to Denver on Monday. They also will be without running backs Reggie Bush and Mike Davis, both of whom had surgery Tuesday. Another tight end, Garrett Celek, is being evaluated after suffering a concussion Sunday.
Tomsula, meanwhile, had been unfailingly supportive of Kaepernick right up until Sunday’s 27-6 loss to the Rams. He acknowledged he consulted with the team’s front office, including general manager Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York, before informing the quarterbacks of the move on Monday but insisted the decision was his.
“I watched tape, I had my feelings and talked with the offensive coaches and then went upstairs and let them know what my decision was,” he said.