SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In the day after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to sit between a pair of Gatorade coolers during the national anthem Friday night, coach Chip Kelly didn’t bring it up.
In fact, Kelly and Kaepernick’s interactions in the time after were nothing out of the ordinary.
“[It was] just my normal contact with him during the game and what plays we’re running,” Kelly said Saturday. “My conversations with Colin all last night were about football.”
Kelly’s conversation with reporters on a conference call Saturday afternoon were anything but, as he spent most of that time answering questions about Kaepernick’s message, how Kelly is handling it and what happens next.
But Kelly repeatedly made it clear that he respects Kaepernick’s right to express his feelings and, taking it further, clarified that only football will be considered when it comes to any upcoming roster decisions and Kaepernick.
Despite the edge that Blaine Gabbert appears to have over Kaepernick in the battle to win the starting quarterback job, Kelly still considered it an open competition as of Saturday evening.
“Yeah, he’s competing with Blaine to see who our starting quarterback’s going to be,” Kelly said. “We haven’t had any discussions in terms of starters right now. Our whole focus today was really making our cuts to 75.”
When those discussions do take place, though, Kelly said that any conversation concerning Kaepernick’s standing with the team will center on football and have nothing to do with his decision to sit during the anthem.
Instead, those chats will look at Kaepernick’s rough outing against Green Bay. He was 2-of-6 for 14 yards and four carries for 18 yards in his preseason debut. It wasn’t the type of performance needed to catch up to Gabbert, who has a larger sample size of snaps and success in Kelly’s offense than Kaepernick does.
With one preseason game to go, it’s hard to envision Kaepernick being able to put together an impressive enough body of work to overcome Gabbert but he could at least get an extended look against San Diego in Thursday’s preseason finale. Kelly will likely again wait until closer to the game to see who is available and who isn’t before determining playing time for that game.
Traditionally, the fourth preseason game is one that doesn’t involve starters playing much, if at all. It’s possible Gabbert could sit out completely, which would offer a strong clue that he’s going to be the starter even if Kelly doesn’t make such a proclamation. For Kaepernick, it’s clear he could still use the reps to knock some rust off even though he said he felt good in Friday’s game.
“I don’t think there was rust,” Kaepernick said. “It just felt good being back on the field. I was excited to be out there. Wish we would have done a little bit more, but it was good to get out there and get my feet wet.”
If indeed Gabbert wins the starting job, some outside observers have wondered what it could mean for Kaepernick’s status on the roster altogether, let alone the depth chart. Kelly indicated Friday night that Kaepernick will remain on the roster regardless.
“We’ve never had a conversation about that,” Kelly said. “That’s never come up. There’s never been a conversation about cutting Colin Kaepernick.”
When the Niners re-convene to begin preparations for the final week of the preseason on Sunday, Kelly said he and the team would discuss the situation surrounding Kaepernick.
“We haven’t gotten any feedback from any of our players about the situation,” Kelly said Saturday. “I’m sure some of them will be aware of it after reading the accounts today, but no one has expressed anything. You know, we’ll talk about it as a team. We’re obviously off today, but we’ll talk about it tomorrow.”