A fair-haired quarterback with running skills who was prolific in a spread system in college and started in the NFL at a young – perhaps too young – age? Yeah, there are some similarities between current 49ers starter Blaine Gabbert and former starter Alex Smith, and team officials had them in mind when they traded for Gabbert last year.
“When we got Blaine on board here, there were some similarities to what we thought Alex Smith went through,” offensive coordinator Geep Chryst said Thursday. “Alex came here very young and played, had to slug out a lot of tough situations. And we thought that Blaine had all this talent, and as a young player, maybe a change of scenery would be good for him.”
Both Gabbert and Smith got their first NFL starts when they were 21 years old. Both joined talent-starved teams and as a result struggled early.
Smith started seven games as a rookie in 2005, completed 50.9 percent of his passes, was sacked 29 times and infamously threw just one touchdown – in the season finale – and 11 interceptions. Gabbert completed 50.8 percent of his passes in 14 starts as a rookie in Jacksonville, was sacked 40 times and threw for 12 touchdowns against 11 interceptions.
The two also were hurt by constant changes at offensive coordinator and by injuries, although Chryst noted that Gabbert’s were not nearly as severe as the separated shoulder that cost Smith (now the Kansas City Chiefs’ starter) one and a half seasons early in his career.
When the 49ers finally found stability in 2011, so did Smith. And he went to the Pro Bowl in 2013.
The hope is for a similar outcome for Gabbert.
“Last year, we thought he practiced well, but in the preseason games he got a little skittish, a little, ‘I’m not ready for this,’ ” Chryst said. “And with another year with him in the system, another year within the organization – which is always more comforting – I thought he had a really good preseason.”
Cram session – New 49ers running backs Pierre Thomas and Shaun Draughn are going through day-and-night study sessions to get ready for Sunday’s game against Atlanta. Chryst said Draughn may be a day ahead of Thomas in learning the game plan but only because he arrived on Monday, whereas Thomas was signed Tuesday.
Both could see plenty of work against the Falcons. Mike Davis won’t play after undergoing surgery on his hand Tuesday.
The team has not revealed its plan for regular starter Carlos Hyde, who is dealing with a stress fracture on the side of his foot. He has not practiced this week.
The only other runner is Kendall Gaskins, who rushed five times for six yards in last Sunday’s loss to the Rams.
Draughn, who has been on the active roster of seven teams during his career and had two carries for 10 yards this season with Cleveland, said that varied background will help him adjust quickly to what the 49ers run.
“I’ve been in a lot of different systems,” he said. “Everybody runs pretty much the same (things). It’s just a matter of what dose they’re running it. Are they running it a majority of the time, or what?”
The Browns cut Draughn last month, and he still was in Cleveland when the 49ers called him at Sunday at 6 p.m.
“I left Sunday night,” he said. “I left around 9, got on the plane and I was here Monday morning.”
Injuries – Guard Alex Boone, who was limited in practice Wednesday because of a knee injury, did not practice Thursday. Fellow starters cornerback Kenneth Acker (chest, concussion), receiver Anquan Boldin (hamstring) and Hyde (foot) also missed the session.
Cornerback Keith Reaser (ankle) practiced on a limited basis. So did tight end Garrett Celek, who is coming back from a concussion.