SANTA CLARA (AP) — Three years after Colin Kaepernick took over as starting quarterback and led the San Francisco 49ers on a Super Bowl run, coach Jim Tomsula decided that his struggling quarterback needed a break and his dormant offense needed a change.
Tomsula officially announced Wednesday that Blaine Gabbert will take over the starting role at quarterback from Kaepernick this week as the Niners look for any kind of spark they can get after failing to score a touchdown three times in the past five games.
“In no way is 2-6 all on Colin Kaepernick,” Tomsula said. “That’s all of us. OK. That’s all of us. Everybody here on the Niners. We all take a big chunk of that. That’s a concerted effort that needs to change. This was just a decision that I wanted Colin to step back and breathe and look at things through a different lens.”
Tomsula did not commit to a long-term change, saying only that Gabbert will start this week against the Falcons. The 49ers have a bye next week and then travel to Seattle on Nov. 22.
Gabbert, a former first-round pick by Jacksonville, has not started a game in more than two years and has thrown just seven passes the past two years as Kaepernick’s backup. But he said he feels more prepared for the challenge than he did as the starter for the Jaguars.
“When I got in the league as a 21-year-old, you haven’t seen really anything,” he said. “Going into my fifth year, just the experiences that I’ve had preparing for games, playing in games, starting games, being a backup quarterback. It’s valuable over time to have those repetitions in practice and on the game field.”
Tomsula hopes that time away from playing can be beneficial to Kaepernick. After making a rapid rise from backup to Alex Smith to Super Bowl quarterback in his second season in 2012 under former coach Jim Harbaugh, Kaepernick’s career has been on a decline the past two seasons. This year, he’s bottomed out.
He took the 49ers back to the NFC title game following the 2013 season, but his performance dropped off last year and was abysmal for the first half of this season. He was completing 59.9 percent of his passes for just 6.6 yards per attempt, with six TDs, five interceptions and a career-low 78.8 passer rating.
“It’s not all Kap’s fault,” receiver Torrey Smith said. “This doesn’t fall 100 percent on Kap. Unfortunately at the quarterback position, when things aren’t going well, you’re going to be the person that’s evaluated the most and the hardest. It’s on us now to try and continue to grow and change and see if it adds a spark.”
Once considered one of the up-and-coming quarterbacks in the league because of his mobility and strong arm, Kaepernick was often wildly off-target this season.
Much of the blame from outside the organization for the Niners’ woes has been directed at Kaepernick.
“That pile just keeps getting bigger,” Tomsula said. “I want him out of there. This is a guy I care about a lot. This is a guy I respect a lot. This is a guy who I think has talent. It’s just me, what I’m watching, what I’m feeling, and I want him to just step back.”
Kaepernick was not available to the media during the open locker room period Wednesday.
Gabbert was taken one round ahead of Kaepernick in the 2011 draft by Jacksonville, but quickly flamed out with the Jaguars despite being the 11th overall pick. Gabbert made 14 starts as a rookie and got the bulk of the starts his first two years in the league before losing his job early in Year 3.
Gabbert has been one of the least effective quarterbacks in the league when he has played, completing just 53.2 percent of his passes, averaging 5.6 yards per attempt with 23 touchdowns, 24 interceptions and a 66.8 passer rating.
Gabbert has lost his last 10 starts since beating Indianapolis on Sept. 23, 2012, and his teams are 5-22 in his career as a starter.
He completed 23 of 28 passes in the preseason for 203 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions and a 108.8 passer rating.
“He has done nothing but improve in the way he’s throwing the football and the way he handles the offense,” Tomsula said. “I just like what he’s doing and I want to put him in there.”
NOTES: RB Reggie Bush (knee), S L.J. McCray (knee) and RB Michael Davis (hand) all had surgery. ... TE Garrett Celek and CB Kenneth Acker are in the concussion protocol. ... WR Anquan Boldin (hamstring) and RB Carlos Hyde (foot) did not practice and are day-to-day.