Jim Tomsula said earlier in the week that he was, “a believer in Blaine Gabbert.”
That faith in the San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback proved to be well-placed in the team’s preseason opener Saturday night against the Houston Texans. In just over a quarter of play, Gabbert completed 8-of-11 passing attempts for 86 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.
The quarterback led San Francisco on both of its scoring drives, one that culminated in a Garrett Celek 10-yard touchdown catch and another that resulted in a 37-yard Phil Dawson field goal.
In what ultimately turned into a 23-10 loss to the Texans, the 49ers head coach was pleased with what he saw from Gabbert.
“It’s good to see Blaine out there with a great supporting cast and able to function the way he practices,” Tomsula said. “I thought he showed that today.”
Gabbert’s performance was a stark contrast to his 2014 preseason debut, when the quarterback completed just 3-of-11 passes for 20 yards and an interception.
The fifth-year pro credited the strong play to his comfort in offensive coordinator Geep Chryst’s new scheme.
“I think just getting more and more comfortable in the offense,” Gabbert said. “As we go along in the preseason and finishing up training camp, you’ll see our team start to gel and mesh. The performances will get better and better each week.
“The more reps you get, the better you’re going to play.”
Gabbert sprayed the ball around to the team’s tight ends throughout his time in the game. In addition to Celek’s touchdown catch, the 49ers backup quarterback completed two passes to rookie Blake Bell, one to 2013 second-round pick Garrett Celek and another to Celek.
“We have a talented group of tight ends,” the quarterback said. “The depth that we have there is something we have to utilize in our offense. They did a wonderful job tonight.”
Saturday night’s game was also the first glimpse of the 49ers much-anticipated up-tempo offense. The 49ers weren't seen sprinting to the line of scrimmage, but it was clear they were in control of the play clock.
The tempo was on display during the 49ers second scoring drive. After running back Jarryd Hayne ran for a first down on a 2nd-and-1 play, San Francisco got to the line quickly, and Gabbert hit Jerome Simpson for 25 yards and the team’s biggest pass play of the game.
“You get shocked defenses,” Gabbert said. “When you can hurry to the line of scrimmage after a big play, … it’s easy for a quarterback to play fast and it let’s our guys make plays in space.”
Preseason games are often times much-maligned by fans and the media, but for the players, it’s still an opportunity to prove they’re worthy of a roster spot.
“While you’re in the game, it’s a game,” Gabbert said. “For the guys that aren’t starters and the guys who are trying to make this team, it’s extremely vital and important to approach a preseason game like it’s a regular season game.”
The 49ers have three preseason games remaining – at home against the Dallas Cowboys, on the road against the Denver Broncos and again at home against the San Diego Chargers – before a Week 1 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football.
Gabbert said the team would watch the game film, improve on what needs fixing and continue their tireless work on the practice fields. The quarterback said he expects big things from all three quarterbacks on the roster: Colin Kaepernick, Dylan Thompson and himself included.
“The way we’ve approached this offseason and this training camp, the amount the quarterbacks have gotten running our core offensive plays, it’s helped tremendously,” Gabbert said. “You’re going to see the quarterbacks trending upward throughout the preseason.”