49ers QB Gabbert responds to benching: 'It sucks; I don't like it'

49ers QB Gabbert responds to benching: 'It sucks; I don't like it'

SANTA CLARA – Blaine Gabbert handled his demotion as 49ers starting quarterback like a professional, coach Chip Kelly said.

That does not mean Gabbert liked hearing the news in a meeting with his coach on Tuesday morning as the players arrived back at team headquarters after a four-day break.

“It sucks,” Gabbert said. “I don’t like it. I don’t like not playing. I’m very forward about that.

[RATTO: Kaepernick's insertion as 49ers' starting QB solves two problems]

“But, at the same time, I’m going to work the same way I’ve always worked the three years I’ve been here. Put my best foot forward. Still continue to prepare. I’m not going to slack on the film work just because I’m not playing.”

Gabbert was named the 49ers’ starter for the opening of the regular season after winning a quarterback competition with Colin Kaepernick during training camp. Kaepernick missed nearly two weeks of practices in August due to arm fatigue.

But after the 49ers opened the regular season with a 28-0 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, the team went in a tailspin. The 49ers have lost four consecutive games, and the team’s passing offense ranks 31st in the league.

“I gave it my best shot,” said Gabbert, who will serve as the team's No. 2 quarterback. “It wasn’t good enough. We didn’t win enough football games. We didn’t score enough points on the offensive side of the ball. That’s the way it goes. It’s a tough situation and coach Kelly had to make a call.”

A year ago, Gabbert got his chance to replace Kaepernick in the ninth game. Gabbert was asked if five games was enough of a sample size, considering this is his first season in Kelly’s system.

“You never know,” Gabbert said. “I can’t answer that question. I just know I didn’t do enough in five games to keep the starting job. That’s just the way it goes. It’s a performance-based business. If you’re not performing at the highest level, you know you’re not going to play.”

Mel Kiper NFL mock draft 2020: Why 49ers could pick LSU's Grant Delpit


Mel Kiper NFL mock draft 2020: Why 49ers could pick LSU's Grant Delpit

A year after selecting No. 2 overall in the NFL draft, the Super Bowl LIV-bound 49ers will pick much later this year in Las Vegas. 

They're slated to step up to the podium with the No. 31 or No. 32 overall pick, depending upon the results of the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs. San Francisco general manager John Lynch stopped by the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. earlier this week for draft preparation, a year after the 49ers staff coached up some of the 2019 draft's top prospects. Though the 49ers will square off with the Chiefs, Lynch made it clear that he doesn't want San Francisco's success to be a one-off. 

"That's why you're in Mobile the week before the Super Bowl," Lynch told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler earlier this week. "It's a big decision, do you leave back home? Because there are a lot of details to get wrapped up. But you've got to constantly be better and trying to better your organization. This is a valuable opportunity to do that."

The 49ers' first-round pick, as of now, is there only one in the first four rounds of this year's draft. That makes nailing the selection much more important, according to ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., who projects the 49ers will select LSU safety Grant Delpit. 

"This feels like a good pairing, with San Francisco potentially losing Jimmie Ward in free agency," Kiper wrote. "Delpit has a ton of talent, but I want to see how he tests at the combine in a few weeks."

Listed at 6-foot-3, 203 pounds, Delpit won the Jim Thorpe Award as college football's top defensive back in 2019, following in the footsteps of Tigers alumni Patrick Peterson (2010) and Morris Claiborne (2011). The Associated Press voted the junior safety second-team All-American in 2019, and SEC coaches voted Delpit first-team all-conference in 2018 and 2019. Delpit finished 2019 with 65 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and seven passes defensed this season en route to a National Championship with LSU. 

Despite the accolades, Kiper said that 2019 represented a disappointing season for Delpit. 

"Delpit was getting top-10 buzz early in the season, but he didn't have a great year, fighting through an ankle injury and missing too many tackles," Kiper wrote.

[RELATED: How Shanahan, Lynch make 49ers CEO Jed York's job easier]

Ward, 28, is set to become an unrestricted free agent after carrying a salary-cap number of $3,843,750 this season. The 49ers value Ward's versatility, but also have defensive lineman Arik Armstead and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders set to hit free agency this offseason, Tight end George Kittle and D-lineman DeForest Buckner are also eligible for contract extensions, meaning the 49ers likely won't be able to keep all of Ward, Armstead and Sanders under the salary cap with Kittle and Buckner due to be among the highest-paid players at their position. 

Atlanta Falcons right tackle Kaleb McGary and New England Patriots wide receiver N'Keal Harry -- the No. 31 and No. 32 picks in 2019, respectively -- each made under $1.9 million last season. If the 49ers opt to let Ward walk in free agency, drafting Delpit could be a less expensive alternative. 

But with free agency just under two months away and the draft even further away, the 49ers' approach to reloading their roster isn't set in stone. 

Why DeForest Buckner-Arik Armstead partnership vital to 49ers' defense

Why DeForest Buckner-Arik Armstead partnership vital to 49ers' defense

SANTA CLARA -- DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead have known each other for a long time now. They were roommates at the University of Oregon and leaders of a dominant Ducks defensive front, with a working partnership extended by the 49ers.

Armstead and Buckner were first-round picks in 2015 and '16 respectively, creating great potential along the 49ers' defensive line finally realized this season.

While flashy newcomers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford get a lion’s share of attention for 2019’s defensive dominance, let’s not forget that Buckner was a second-team All-Pro and Armstead led the team in sacks in a breakout year.

These two revel in each other’s success and are excited to play Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs together, especially after going through some hard times.

“It has been awesome,” Buckner said Friday. “Coming in as a rookie already having one of my good friends and college roommates on the team already, who's been in a similar position as me, getting drafted in the first round and being the team's first pick the year before, and really helping me transition into the locker room and having a guy to really bounce ideas off of throughout the year.

“It has been really beneficial for me, and it's been fun, especially this year. We had a lot of good times at Oregon and then we went through a rough patch here the past couple of years. To finally have this year, everything happening the right way and getting here to the “big dance,” it has been one hell of a ride.”

This ride isn’t over yet. There’s one more game to play on Feb. 2 against the Chiefs, where the Oregon alums will be vital to victory.

The 49ers rotate eight defensive linemen, but they make the most hay when Bosa, Buckner, Armstead and Ford line up together. Armstead generally plays end in the base package, frequently sliding inside next to Buckner on obvious passing downs.

That’s when these longtime friends can create havoc.

“It’s great to play next to him,” Armstead said. “Teams often give him a lot of attention, which makes my job easier. Or, sometimes the focus comes my way and he has a favorable matchup. He and I working together puts pressure on the offense.”

Interior pressure is always important. It prevents opposing quarterbacks from stepping up in the pocket, often flushing signal callers out of their comfort zone. The 49ers have talked all week about executing a coordinated, disciplined pass rush that shuts down escape routes for Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, the reigning NFL MVP. 

He’s both a threat to run outright and sidestep pressure long enough to make plays down the field.

“As a defensive line, you need to go and attack all day and once you put out the run and you start pass-rushing," Buckner said, " you want to consistently put pressure in his face, whether it's just pressure up the middle, off the edge, getting hit and also getting sacks. So, you just want to make him uncomfortable. You don't want to have him back there because a quarterback like him, when he has time to throw, he'll make you pay. We just need to do a really good job rushing as a unit.”

[RELATED: How Shanahan, Lynch make 49ers CEO York's job easier]

It’s hard, if not impossible, to find a more talented pass-rushing unit in the NFL. The 49ers work hard to stop the run, take teams off schedule and then release the hounds on third-and-long situations.

“It’s super important to get there in four,” Armstead said. “We want the most guys possible back in coverage while still generating pressure. We take pride in that.

“It has been great to play with those guys and work hard for one another. We have a lot of fun making plays in this defense. Big plays are contagious. When somebody makes one, the others want to join the party.”