By Morris Phillips
The 49ers quarterback competition tooks twists and turns in Denver on Saturday night.
Blaine Gabbert given the opportunity to run with the ball all the way up until the season opener on September 12, took a couple of baby steps forward. Colin Kaepernick, still working through arm fatigue, threw before the game and also made positive strides. And Christian Ponder, signed off the street and thrown into the fire with little preparation, looked like the second coming of Joe Montana.
Needless to say, after the 49ers’ 31-24 exhibition win over the Broncos, the competition has yet to be decided.
“I think he’s gotten better and better each day,” Kelly said of Kaepernick after he threw 40 passes, some up to 50 yards, before Saturday night’s game. “And we’ll just see. The biggest thing is how he responds, in terms of it there are any residual effects when he wakes up in the morning.”
Kelly went on to say that Kaepernick is expected to resume practice on Monday, and play in Friday night’s home game against the Packers. If so, the competition between Gabbert and Kaepernick could be decided at the conclusion of this upcoming week. As for sixth rounder Jeff Driskel and free agent signee Ponder, both appear poised to make extended appearances in the final two games, if for no other reason to ensure the team has its health at the position heading into the beginning of the season.
Ponder did turn heads against the Broncos entering the game late in the third quarter and leading the team on a pair of touchdown drives that turned a tie game into a 14-point 49ers’ lead. First he scrambled for a 22-yard touchdown run, then on the next possession threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Dres Anderson. Not bad for a guy for was prepared to run roughly half of the 40 offensive plays the team had installed for the game, not including his touchdown pass, which was reportedly drawn up on the sideline during the game.
The former Vikings’ quarterback didn’t play in the NFL in 2015, but his calling card, passing accuracy, didn’t escape in during the inactivity. Ponder, who was signed after Thad Lewis was injured in the first pre-season game, finished 7 of 8 for 86 yards, and appeared to be having the time of his life in his return to action.
Gabbert certainly didn’t wow anyone, but through two games he hasn’t taken a sack or committed a turnover. After several series of blah, blah, Gabbert led the 49ers on a scoring drive in the second quarter, culminating with four-yard run that put the team up 14-7 in the second quarter. Gabbert also put up decent, if not spectacular numbers, finishing 6 of 9 for 69 yards.