Over the course of his coaching career, Jim Harbaugh has developed a reputation as a developer of quarterbacks. He started by helping Josh Johnson develop into an NFL prospect at the University of San Diego. He had great success with Andrew Luck, although Luck obviously brought a lot to the table. In San Francisco he helped Alex Smith right the ship, and eventually helped turn him into a pair of draft picks. And of course, we've seen what he's done with Colin Kaepernick thus far. There is still work to be done, but progress is being made.
Recently, 49ers free agent quarterback Colt McCoy had an interesting comment. He apparently told the San Francisco Chronicle that in one season with the 49ers, he had learned more about the quarterback position than he had at any point in his football career. Now, it's true he had spent his previous time in the dumpster fire that has been the Cleveland Browns, but I still think it says something.
The 49ers acquired Blaine Gabbert last week in exchange for a sixth round pick, and will now pair him with Harbaugh and QB coach Geep Chryst. Given Harbaugh's QB experience, I can't say what Chryst's role is in QB development. He has been mentioned as the likely successor to Greg Roman should the 49ers offensive coordinator leave, so there is obviously game-planning work involved. But in terms of helping the quarterbacks with their craft, I do wonder what his involvement is.
Prior to his time with the 49ers, Chryst as TEs/offensive quality control coach for the Carolina Panthers from 2006-2010. Before that he was QB coach for the Arizona Cardinals in 1998, and from 2001-2003. He's got some history with the position, but I'd love to know more about his involvement with quarterback development.
Whatever the case, the 49ers will put Gabbert in a situation where he can potentially find some measure of success. He'll get a chance to work with the coaches and improve on any potential mechanical issues he might have. Ideally the only regular season playing time he'll get is in blowouts, and potentially a meaningless Week 17 game. However, he is likely going to get a whole lot of preseason action. That will give him time to hopefully improve his craft.
I'd love to see the 49ers sign him to a 2-year deal this offseason, so as to buy some time for his development. Beyond developing him for a potential trade, if they can get a viable backup behind Colin Kaepernick, they might be more inclined to let the cuffs off the offense. For a good chunk of the 2013 regular season, the offense seemed handcuffed a bit. Maybe not having an experienced backup like Alex Smith behind Kap made the coaching staff a little wary. We'll never know for certain, but getting some confidence in Gabbert as a backup could be the key to further unlocking this offense.