Blaine Gabbert removing ‘bust’ label in second chance with 49ers

By Jesse Reed

Blaine Gabbert isn’t a savior for the San Francisco 49ers, but he’s also no longer a bust.

The quarterback’s arrival in San Francisco last spring was met with plenty of skepticism, as most figured the “bust” label was already etched in stone.

After all, the former first-round pick’s three-year tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars can only be described as disastrous. While few would argue his pure talent as a passer, Gabbert displayed poise in the pocket to match that of a terrified deer in the headlights. When pressure came his way, dude froze — both mentally and physically — leading to atrocious results.

Through four games as a full-time starter with the 49ers, its clear Gabbert’s mental blocks are no longer an issue, though. He’s still under plenty of pressure, playing behind San Francisco’s porous offensive line, and has been sacked eight times in the past three games. But nowadays he knows what to do with the ball and is delivering balls to his hot-route receivers on time, rather than freezing under pressure.

In this respect he’s far outplaying his predecessor Colin Kaepernick, who really looked like he forgot how to play the game this season before getting benched. In all fairness to Kap, perhaps his torn labrum had something to do with his poor play, but his mental focus was also flagging badly for most of the year.

Gabbert finally has gotten used to the speed of the game and he’s showing up as prepared as anyone in the league. Even better, he seems to have embraced the chaos that comes from being an NFL quarterback and is extremely cool under pressure.

As proof of his changed nature, Gabbert led the 49ers to an overtime victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, winning 26-20 with a perfect throw on a 71-yard bomb to a wide-open Torrey Smith.

Earlier in the game, he calmly realized there was room to run up the middle and scored on a 44-yard scamper.

The week before, he nearly led a huge upset over NFC West rival Arizona, completing over 69 percent of his passes for 318 yards with a touchcdown against a tremendous Cardinals secondary. He also played remarkably well in defeat in Seattle the week before after winning his first start against Atlanta.

Gabbert is now 2-2 as a starter for the 49ers, and if not for bad calls by referees in last weekend’s game against the Cardinals (it was so bad the crew of that game was removed from the Sunday night game this weekend as punishment), he’d be 3-1 with his only loss coming in Seattle, which is darn impressive.

During this stretch, he’s completed 80-of-127 passes (63 percent) for 963 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions, adding another 140 yards one touchdown on the ground.

Has he completely shrugged off the mantle of underachiever? Hardly. Gabbert has a long ways to go before he’s going to be viewed favorably by the history books. That said, the athlete formerly known as “bust” is playing well enough that he should get another shot to start long term, either with the 49ers or another NFL franchise, before his career is finished.