SANTA CLARA (AP) — Colin Kaepernick is back following three surgeries and last season’s benching, determined and ready to prove himself as a starting quarterback again. Blaine Gabbert insists he is prepared to keep the San Francisco job going into this season.
Chip Kelly’s first training camp as new 49ers coach will likely be defined by an intense quarterback competition — not to mention fierce fights for spots at several other key positions, such as wide receiver, cornerback and on the defensive line.
After months of speculation that Kaepernick would be traded, and a high-profile meeting with Broncos general manager John Elway, the mobile, strong-armed QB is staying put after all.
“What Chip and the coaching staff, my teammates have really done this offseason and the work they put in and how everything’s been going, I’m very excited to be here,” he said, noting this will be a welcome fresh start. “We know what we’re doing when we step on the field, so we can go out and play with a clear mind. Chip brings a lot of excitement with this offense and what he’s been able to do in the NFL. And I think everybody on the team is excited to play for him.”
Last month, the 28-year-old Kaepernick vowed to be at full strength and much heavier come Day 1 of training camp. He is recovering from surgeries on his right thumb, his left knee, and on his non-throwing left shoulder to repair a torn labrum, which landed him on season-ending injured reserve after he lost his job last fall to 2011 first-round draft pick Gabbert. Kaepernick was especially lean during the offseason and not as filled out through the upper body given rehab limited his time in the weight room.
“We’re in the meetings together, we’re in the locker room together, we’re out there working on getting better together,” Gabbert said of working alongside Kaepernick.
Here are some things to watch for with the 49ers:
uTHIN RECEIVING CORPS: The 49ers lost No. 1 wideout Anquan Boldin, leaving them with only Torrey Smith as an experienced receiver in the unit.
With tight end Vernon Davis also gone, San Francisco must figure out the depth chart for its receivers. Bruce Ellington and Bruce Miller are expected to take on bigger roles. Miller has been primarily a key blocker at fullback but now is transitioning to tight end in Kelly’s scheme.
uQUIET IN FREE AGENCY: General manager Trent Baalke hardly made a splash in free agency a year after adding Smith on a $40 million, five-year contract with $22 million guaranteed. Baalke acquired guard Zane Beadles after Alex Boone departed to the Vikings in free agency.
uSPLITTING THE REPS: Kelly doesn’t envision any problems getting Kaepernick and Gabbert enough turns with the first team during training camp.
“We have enough reps. We get enough reps during the course of training camp and during the course of our training where it’s never been a concern for us in terms of, ‘Geez, we’re not going to get enough looks out there.’ So, we have enough reps for everybody,” Kelly said.
Kaepernick is eager to get back to work.
“Compete. That’s all I know how to do,” he said. “Every year that I’ve stepped on the field, it’s a competition, whether people like to say you’re the No. 1 or not. It’s a competition. There’s always someone trying to be that starter, trying to make that step. And this year’s no different.”
HYDE’S COMEBACK: Carlos Hyde arrived last summer ready for a breakout second season as San Francisco’s No. 1 running back, then a foot injury derailed his year after seven games. He ran for 470 yards and three touchdowns, two of those TDs in a season-opening win against Minnesota.
There is depth behind Hyde, but who becomes his primary backup is yet to be seen. Shaun Draughn and DuJuan Harris provide reliable options in the backfield after both joined the 49ers midseason in 2015.
“I’ve been impressed with both of them,” Kelly said last month. “I think they certainly have the ability to play in the NFL and have proven that. We’re excited to continue to work with them.”
DEFENSIVE LINE: With Glenn Dorsey and Ian Williams again working back from significant injuries, Mike Purcell might be the man at nose tackle to start the year, a natural spot for him, according to Baalke.
Dorsey is recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, while Williams is dealing with further ankle problems.
On March 9, Williams reached agreement on a five-year deal that was restructured to a one-year contract once his doctors in Miami shared findings with the 49ers medical staff.