The San Francisco 49ers are halfway through their preseason schedule, and the quarterback position seems to have more questions than answers. After a shaky Week 1 debut, the passing game took a step forward in Week 2, capped by a phenomenal evening for newly signed Christian ponder. Colin Kaepernick will hopefully return to practice this week, but in the meantime, I thought I’d take a look at where things stand.
Who is the starter?
Blaine Gabbert is getting the first team reps, and has two preseason starts under his belt. In the opener, he was 4-of-10 for 63 yards and a touchdown, with three rushes for 18 yards. The passing numbers got a big boost from Vance McDonald’s 43-yard catch-and-run touchdown. In Week 2, Gabbert was 6-of-9 for 69 yards, and seemed more comfortable in his three series of work.
Kaepernick has not thrown in team drills for a week-and-a-half, but on Saturday, he did a lot of pre-game throwing. He worked up from 10 yards to 55 yards, working with trainers and Bruce Ellington. It would seem to be a strong indicator he will be back on the practice field this week.
If Kaepernick returns, I suspect we see a split of snaps again. The question then becomes, who gets the start on Friday against the Green Bay Packers, and how do they split snaps? My guess is we see both players get first team work in that game. Kaepernick should get the start to guarantee some reps against the Packers first team defense, but I’m guessing we won’t hear anything Wednesday or Thursday, if at all before the game.
Will the 49ers carry three quarterbacks?
The 49ers got strong performances from both Jeff Driskel and Christian Ponder on Saturday. Driskel came on with the second-team offense and completed 6-of-7 passes for 66 yards, with nine rushing yards. That followed a Texans game in which he was 4-of-12 for 20 yards, with 61 rushing yards. Christian Ponder was signed on Tuesday, and he put together a great performance with the 49ers third string offense. He was completed 7-of-8 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 21 yards.
If Kaepernick’s arm is healthy at the end of the preseason, the team might decide to not keep a third quarterback. Driskel has had some moments, but is it enough that another team would want to claim him through waivers? Or could the 49ers get him through and signed to the practice squad? My guess is they could get him to the practice squad, but the decisions of other teams are entirely unpredictable.
On the other hand, Ponder had a fantastic game, albeit working with a limited playbook against the back-end of the Broncos defense. If Kaepernick can play this week, will all four quarterbacks get snaps? If the 49ers want to get Driskel to the practice squad, it would not be altogether shocking to see him not get snaps against the Packers. That’s just a guess right now, but if Kaepernick can play, there are only so many snaps to go around. Of course, the team could also just see Ponder as an insurance policy. However, given what he did on Saturday, I would be surprised if Ponder did not get some snaps this Friday against the Packers.
I think the 49ers go without a third quarterback to start, thinking they can get Driskel to the practice squad.