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Chip Kelly: Preseason games will be the big determination in QB competition

The San Francisco 49ers have to figure out their starting quarterback. Training camp will tell us something, but the preseason could tell us a lot more.

The San Francisco 49ers quarterback competition is in full swing through the first three days of training camp, with Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert splitting snaps down the middle. There has been praise and criticism for both quarterbacks. Neither seems to really be blowing the other away in competition, and so this thing will continue on for a while longer.

Chip Kelly met with the media on Tuesday, and he got some questions about the competition. He was asked how he would characterize the competition thus far, and what stood out. He stuck with some fairly basic cliches that indicate he recognizes the development will take some time:

“I thought they were really, both of those guys have been really competitive. Again, they’re still growing. We’re new to them. They’re new to us. So, there’s a learning process going on and that’s the big thing for us as a coaching staff is just kind of seeing how they acclimate themselves to what we’re doing. But, I thought both those guys have done a really nice job in the last two days.”

He emphasized the split in snaps, and then had an interesting comment about the preseason:

“Whoever starts a drill, you know, the next drill up, the next time we have a team period, then someone else will start that drill. So, who starts the first one isn’t the most important thing. It’s just let’s get some quality reps for both Blaine and Kap and I think they’ve done a good job taking advantage of that. It’ll be an ongoing process though. The other thing with the quarterbacks, they’re still, they’re off limits. They’re not going to get hit in any of our training sessions and there’s no quarterback in the NFL or even college that probably gets hit in practice. So, really the big determination with those guys will be the preseason games are going to be huge for those guys.”

Preseason is obviously an important part of the evaluation process, but sometimes we hear that coaches see enough in training camp to make their evaluations. However, for the 49ers quarterback competition, given that they are splitting this down the middle, seeing reps in real, live action is going to be important. My guess is this also means we’ll see them get a fairly even split of work with the first team offense. The 49ers can’t control when the opposing team will remove its defensive starters, so I will continue to expect the first two preseason games to feature Gabbert starting one of them, and Kaepernick starting the other.

And for those who want to see some video, Jennifer Chan got this of Kaepernick and Gabbert winding up and throwing.