Sunday's preseason opener for the San Francisco 49ers against the Houston Texans will be fascinating for many reasons. Chief among them, how much will Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert play?
The question comes into great focus after Kaepernick sat out of practice on Friday for a second consecutive day. As a result, Gabbert took all the first-team reps in a joint practice against the Texans.
Chip Kelly said Kaepernick was dealing with soreness on his surgically-repaired left, non-throwing shoulder.
"Hopefully we can get him to play on Sunday," the 49ers coach said.
Kaepernick remained hopeful he could see the field on Sunday. In the meantime, he mirrored Gabbert and San Francisco's other quarterbacks, going through his footwork and reads during the joint practice. The sixth-year pro said he was experiencing tightness in his arm, so he's being proactive about icing his shoulder and being cautious.
"I would have loved to have gotten those reps," Kaepernick said. "But it's also something that, we're in preseason practice. We don't play a game for about another month, so we want to make sure we stay ahead of this before we get to the season."
Kelly estimated that the 49ers quarterbacks have thrown nearly 100 passes per day. The team planned Kaepernick to get a day off on Thursday, too.
"It's just trying to get his arm back to where we can just use him every day," Kelly explained. "If we've got to take a day off in between, it's not a big deal."
Kaepernick has not undergone an MRI on the arm, according to Kelly.
"I think he feels fine," the coach said. "He's dealt with it before. It's just a little shoulder soreness."
Kaepernick's arm won't alter the team's thinking on the quarterback competition. Kelly said he wants the Kaepernick-Gabbert battle to play out "organically," and that there's no rush to name a Week 1 starter at this point of camp.
"You want to be right," Kelly said. "You don't want to be first. That's like writing an article in the newspaper, right? You want to make sure you get all of your information right before you write the article. Just because you're the first one in and you beat the deadline, you could be wrong in that decision. So I don't want anybody on our staff to make the wrong decision on who our quarterback to be just because we said, 'Why did we do it? Because we wanted to name him by a certain date.'
"I want to make sure we have the right quarterback to lead the San Francisco 49ers this year, and I think we've got two very competitive guys that have played quality games in the NFL. It's fair to them and even more importantly, it's fair to the team to make sure that we get this thing right."
For Week 1 of the preseason, Gabbert said he didn't know if he'd get the ball first against Houston.
"Coach Kelly makes those decisions," Gabbert began, "and when I do get the chance to get out there and play, I'm just going to make the most of my opportunity. That's all you can do. Whether you're going in the first, second, third or fourth quarter, every quarterback wants to go out there and compete, have fun and just execute our offense and move the ball down the field."
– Friday's day of work with the Texans was the first joint practice session ever held at the SAP Performance Facility. So how did it come about? It's because Kelly and Houston coach Bill O'Brien have decades of history together. "I was at New Hampshire when 'O.B.' was at Brown," Kelly said. "I got to know him then. ... I've known 'O.B.' for twenty some odd, thirty some odd years – Kelly was complimentary of O'Brien's teaching style and philosophies as a head coach. In turn, O'Brien spoke highly of Kelly's football acumen. "He's a great coach, very, very bright guy," the Texans coach said of his 49ers counterpart. "(He) has a very quick mind, good sense of humor, great relationships with his players, and he really understands the game. Anytime you can pair up with a team like that, you're going to get a lot of work done because there's a lot of ideas, a lot of creativity that goes into planning that practice."
– One of the continued bright spots of 49ers camp has been veteran receiver Jerome Simpson, who once again caught an impressive deep ball from Gabbert on Friday. "He's been doing a great job," the quarterback said of Simpson. "The thing you notice about Jerome is he's always running. The conditioning level that he's at right now is tremendous. It's full-speed every play, whether it's the first play of practice or the last play of practice. He caught that double move and burst down the sideline and he still had juice to go after that. It's been a lot of fun to work with him."
– Gabbert also shared compliments on rookie quarterback Jeff Driskel. Gabbert sounded eager to watch No. 6 make his preseason debut. "I'm excited to see what Jeff does," Gabbert said. "We've been with him all summer in the quarterback room, and I'm excited for him." Gabbert added that the Louisiana Tech product has made "consistent improvement" throughout camp.