SANTA CLARA, Calif. — After five weeks of watching quarterback Blaine Gabbert struggle, San Francisco 49ers coach Chip Kelly is making a change.
After weeks of speculation, Kelly named Colin Kaepernick his starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against Buffalo on Tuesday.
Sunday’s game will mark Kaepernick’s first start since Nov. 1 of last year, a 27-6 loss to the Rams. Kaepernick played briefly the following week before shutting it down for the season because of a shoulder injury.
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That shoulder injury turned into a harbinger of things to come as Kaepernick underwent a series of surgeries to his thumb and knee in addition to the shoulder. The recovery from those ailments left Kaepernick unable to lift weights and, combined with his decision to become vegan, Kaepernick lost considerable weight, though he declined to say exactly how much.
When Kaepernick returned to the fold in the preseason, he made it through the first couple of weeks of training camp before right shoulder fatigue forced him to miss the first three preseason games. He played in the final preseason contest against San Diego and handed the ball off three times in the Niners’ season-opening win against the Rams.
Throughout the preseason and the early part of this season, Kelly often deflected questions about changing quarterbacks, citing Kaepernick’s physical condition as preventing him from playing his best football.
At his peak in 2012 and 2013, Kaepernick weighed about 225 pounds; the type of condition Kelly says allowed him to play well. Last week, Kelly said he wasn’t sure Kaepernick’s exact weight now but said he’s hovering around 215 pounds.
“He’s continuing to work, continuing to get stronger, continuing to get better,” Kelly said. “Again, as we talked about, he came back from three surgeries so it’s just to get him the process of getting back into where he is. The only thing, I’m just saying, there’s not a weight limit on what he has to be to play it’s just what he is right now is he’s not the 2013 version of himself where he took a team to the Super Bowl from a physical standpoint.”
Kelly made it clear he wasn’t so much putting a weight requirement on Kaepernick — who remained the backup to Gabbert the first five weeks — as he was hoping to see Kaepernick get back to the peak physical condition that allowed for so much success earlier in his career.
Gabbert started each of the first five games and after a solid outing against the Los Angeles Rams in week 1, struggled to produce. In four consecutive 49ers’ losses, Gabbert has struggled mightily.
For the season, Gabbert ranks 30th in the NFL in passer rating (69.6), 26th in interceptions (six) and 26th in completion percentage (58 percent) and 31st in yards per attempt (5.93).