A storyline that paints a vivid picture of the clumsiness happening down in Santa Clara revolves around two players the 49ers refuse to use.
Quarterback Christian Ponder and pass rusher Marcus Rush could potentially assist a stumbling 1-11 football team. Yet Ponder continues to be inactive for every game, while Rush hasn’t even been promoted from the practice squad. Normally the worst team in the league would want to try and empty their refrigerator. Not the 49ers.
First things first: I’m in support of the 49ers starting Colin Kaepernick this week. Although he’s not the longterm answer at quarterback, Kap’s stellar November has earned him some wiggle room with the starting job. One horrific game in soggy conditions should not permanently send him to the bench.
But other than the fact that he’s a good teammate, why is Blaine Gabbert continuing to backup Kaepernick? Chip Kelly said today there has been no (public) consideration to make Ponder active on game days. Gabbert is set to be a free agent at the end of the year. This franchise does not owe Gabbert dignity; they owe themselves another option to look at for the future.
If Kaepernick struggles to complete passes and score points against the Jets, the 49ers understand they will be backing themselves into a corner, right? Kap’s free agent market will dry up and he’ll think hard about exercising his right to stay with the team for $19 million in 2017. Ponder should be under consideration to play the final three games if that’s the case, and the first logical move is to elevate him as the backup.
The Rush situation is even more perplexing for the 49ers, especially for GM Trent Baalke. The team is tied for 30th in the NFL with just 20 sacks in 12 games. Take away five sacks from Ahmad Brooks, and the pass rush is an endangered species. No word yet if PETA will hold a rally outside of Levi’s Stadium.
Of course, Rush posted six sacks during preseason, prompting defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil to say he’d be “shocked” if Rush was stuck on the practice squad all year. I need to see with my own eyes if he’s actually worse than Eli Harold and Tank Carradine. Baalke can try and inject a new player to try and pressure opposing quarterbacks.
And yet 11 losses later, here we are.
I get it: The 49ers are telling us productivity in the preseason, especially against backups, carries no significance. Is Ponder really going to give you anything different than Kaepernick or Gabbert? He was basically signed as an emergency quarterback. Rush is a relentless pass rusher but not a strong run defender. Each of these players have weaknesses.
My counter argument: What in the world do you have to lose? The 49ers have two resources at two vital positions of need and they refuse to use them. Sometimes the effort or the play calls don’t have to change — the people do.
If Ponder and Rush both played well, it would be an indictment on Kelly and Baalke for not giving them an opportunity earlier in the season. Perhaps underneath it all, that’s a reason to keep these players away from the football field — to save face.
With that in mind, and all of the other wrong decisions so far in 2016, don’t expect to see either of these players help in 2016.