The San Francisco 49ers are 1-3 and have a minuscule vertical passing game. Yet, receiver Torrey Smith feels like the window to throw the ball his way is there.
Asked if he’s receiving more defensive attention this season, #49ers WR Torrey Smith said, “I’ve been getting open.”
— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) October 4, 2016
This certainly seems as though it could be some shade thrown towards quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Indeed, Smith has a point.
San Francisco’s Week 4 loss to the Dallas Cowboys could well have gone much different if not for a critical miss from Gabbert. Smith ran a deep route and appeared to have Dallas defensive back Morris Claiborne beaten for a possible touchdown. But an off target throw from Gabbert led to an interception.
— NFL (@NFL) October 2, 2016
So, is Smith indirectly calling for Colin Kaepernick?
Possibly. If so, it needs to be pointed out that the numbers don’t exactly suggest things will be much better.
In the first first four games of the 2015 season, Kaepernick was the quarterback. In those games, Smith had nine receptions for 185 yards and a touchdown. In the first four games with Gabbert at quarterback this season, Smith has caught nine balls for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Sure, 2015’s run was better, but neither was very good.
The comparison over a larger sample size produces similar results.
In the eight games started by Kaepernick in 2015, Smith caught 16 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns. With Gabbert under center, he caught 17 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns.
Slightly more receptions under Gabbert. Slightly more yards and a better average under Kaepernick. But quite honestly, neither quarterback was able to take advantage of Smith’s talents.
Maybe we can excuse some of Kaepernick’s 2015 struggles. He was hurt and had an inept offensive coach in Jim Tomsula. But as bad as Gabbert has been, any expectations that may come from a potential quarterback change should be tempered.
More than just that, though, members of the 49ers really have to be careful about saying anything that even remotely implies a problem in the locker room. This team has dealt with more than enough of that over the last two years.
In 2014, the drama was centered around then coach Jim Harbaugh and his feud with the front office. Harbaugh left after 2014, but the drama didn’t stop in 2015.
Well before Kaepernick’s national anthem protests became a topic for public debate, he was a source of controversy in San Francisco. Reports came out that he was “on an island” in the locker room. Once the decision was made to bench Kaepernick in favor of Gabbert, the drama shifted to Tomsula. Would he be fired after only one season or would the 49ers stay loyal? That question seemed to have a different answer every week.
While San Francisco may not have a particularly good season in 2016, it can certainly use a drama free one.
For now, it doesn’t seem like Gabbert has any problem with Smith’s comments.
“Torrey and I are fine,” Gabbert said, via Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk. “It was one play. We both wanted to hit on it. It was a big play in that football game and it didn’t turn out. The past is the past. We’ve moved on from that. We’re both on the same page on what we see in that route and we’re going to hit that moving forward. We were both frustrated at the time. That happens. We’re competitive guys. I don’t want to throw a pick there. I’d much rather throw a 65-yard touchdown. Trust me. We’ve just got to move forward and you learn from that experience.”
That’s a good step in the right direction. But a quarterback controversy can’t brew after every loss when the quarterback struggles. With either Gabbert or Kaepernick, we should expect at least a few more of those this season.
If the 49ers do get that drama, the season will not only be bad, but disastrous.