The San Francisco 49ers are 24 days from their first practice of training camp, which means we'll start to get a better handle on who will rise and who will fall in the competition for roster spots. To prepare for training camp, we're going to go through a bubble watch of the entire roster. The plan will be to go position-by-position, and then compile it into our first bubble watch of training camp.
We're going to start with the quarterback position. The 49ers quarterbacks are scheduled to report on July 18. We know who the starting quarterback is for 2014 (and beyond). I think we know who the backup quarterback is going to be, but the other backups will get plenty of work in the meantime.
Locks: Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert
Strong Bubble: None
Weak Bubble: Josh Johnson, McLeod Bethel-Thompson
Longshot: Kory Faulkner
Throughout the offseason program, Blaine Gabbert was the clear No. 2 quarterback. We can only take so much from OTAs and minicamp, but given Gabbert's guaranteed contract, this would seem to confirm that he is the heavy favorite to be Colin Kaepernick's backup in 2014.
The next question would then become whether or not the 49ers will carry only two quarterbacks in 2014. Given the depth of this roster, I have to think they are strongly hoping that is the case. The team is hoping Blaine Gabbert puts together a solid preseason to solidify that backup position. Last season, even though Colt McCoy was never really needed, there was a certain level of apprehension with him. Blaine Gabbert is not exactly an inspiring backup, but there is seemingly a bit more upside with him. Maybe it turns into nothing, maybe he develops into a long-term serviceable backup for the 49ers. If the 49ers can hope for something along the lines of the latter (or at least one year of it!), they can afford to release the remaining quarterbacks, and then keep one on the practice squad.
I separated Josh Johnson and McLeod Bethel-Thompson from Kory Faulkner because Faulkner is a guy who seems to be clearly destined for the practice squad. Greg Roman had plenty of praise for Faulkner during minicamp, but he also was very clear that Faulkner had plenty of development work still to do. He could show enough in training camp to earn a roster spot, but all indications are that he will be cut at the end of camp and signed to the practice squad if he clears waivers.
Johnson is back for another shot with the 49ers, with his own belief that he is an improved quarterback, and now playing in a system more suited to his skills. Given that Gabbert is the one with the guaranteed money, and McBLT and Faulkner have practice squad eligibility, Johnson's roster chances are not great. He could wow the coaches in training camp and preseason action, and earn that third quarterback spot. I'm almost tempted to include both Johnson and McBLT in the long shot category. However, while I think Gabbert is a lock, we also don't know how comfortable the 49ers will feel with him as the sole backup quarterback. We'll see how he progresses through camp. A strong couple weeks of practice, and I would have no problem moving Johnson and McBLT to long-shot status.