Generally, when things are going bad, the most popular guy on a football team is the backup quarterback.
But with the San Francisco 49ers, who have been outscored by a combined 57-3 in two preseason losses, not so much. Not when Blaine Gabbert, Josh Johnson and McLeod Bethel-Thompson combined to go 16 for 25 for 128 yards and two interceptions in Sunday’s 34-0 drubbing by the Denver Broncos to christen Levi’s Stadium.
But Gabbert is the one with the pedigree, the one who was a first-round pick, No. 10 overall, of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011. The one who should be able to step in at a moment’s notice for Colin Kaepernick without missing too many beats, right?
“It just comes back to taking care of the football,” Gabbert, who was picked off at the Denver 35-yard line midway through the third quarter Sunday, told reporters after the game.
“It starts at the quarterback position, whoever is out there, including myself, we have to be conscious of it," he added. "When you have some momentum going, you have a drive across the 50, and you turn the ball over, it’s a dagger.”
One play later, Denver backup quarterback Brock Osweiler threw a 33-yard touchdown pass and the Broncos led 24-0. Dagger indeed.
Gabbert, who has the upper hand on Johnson for the backup gig, suffered through a 32.4 passer rating afternoon.
“He’s a little bit like any quarterback,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “There’s going to be good days. The precision right now, though, is on the unit. And that’s where I see it. I see it needing to get better.
“I don’t put it on one guy.”
Gabbert has started 27 of the 28 NFL games in which he’s played, but he appeared in only three games last season before being traded to the 49ers in March for a sixth-round draft pick.
In the 49ers’ two exhibition games, he is a combined 11-for-25 for 60 yards with two interceptions.
Harbaugh seems frustrated with the lack of ball security by quarterbacks not named Kaepernick.
“They’re turning the ball over,” Harbaugh said. “All of them have. There’s nobody to elevate. Whoever doesn’t turn the ball over will be the backup quarterback.”
Which brings us back to Gabbert.
“Protecting the ball is the number one thing that the quarterback has to do, and that goes for every guy on this roster, and it starts with every guy out there,” Gabbert said. “My job, which I’m focusing on, is not turning the football over.
“There’s a little rust to knock off, but after the first game I felt pretty comfortable. We put some decent drives together there in the second quarter, I believe, and it just leaves a sour taste in my mouth turning the football over in the third quarter.”