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49ers still without a clear starting quarterback

As the competition at quarterback continues to heat up, head coach Chip Kelly seems to be happy with Colin Kaepernick‘s progress. But didn’t offer anything of substance Friday afternoon.

While no competitor has clearly pulled away from the other — with both quarterbacks at times making poor reads or being goaded into dangerous passes by the 49ers defensive unit — Kelly was encouraged by the progress of the two potential starters in learning his new offensive system.

Of Kaepernick, Kelly said:

“He was here from the mental standpoint, was great in the meeting room, was great mirroring the quarterbacks, but really didn’t do anything except for seven-on-seven in the spring time. So, for him to come in and step in for his first couple of days and done what he’s done, that’s been very impressive to us.

That’s not a statement one should take to the bank, though, since Kelly offered a familiar summary of his feelings towards Blaine Gabbert:

“We’ve been really high on Blaine since the spring just because he was the one guy that was getting the predominate amount of reps with the ones. So, I think it’s a real healthy competition and as I’ve said before, it’s a good situation. I believe you need to have at least two quarterbacks in this league, just because of the physicality that goes on at that position. So, you better have some depth because very rarely does one guy make it through an entire season.”

The now fully healthy Kaepernick has entered camp having regained the majority of the muscle mass he lost during the offseason after being hampered by knee, thumb and shoulder injuries.

While the signature zip of his speedy passes hasn’t been lost — just ask WR Bruce Ellington who exited practice yesterday after jamming his finger on a Kaepernick pass — it’s clear that his inability to participate in the offseason programs has hampered him during the opening stages of camp.

By my humble account, Kaepernick has been goaded into making bad throws by an aggressive and deceptive 49ers secondary. Yesterday, Kaepernick delivered two interceptions during team drills to cornerbacks Jimmie Ward and Rashard Robinson.

Kaepernick has also struggled with his ball placement after being out of action for so long, with both of yesterday’s picks coming after the quarterback tried to fit back shoulder passes into his receivers along the sidelines.

Precision is just one of the multiple aspects that Kelly stated that he looked for when evaluating his quarterbacks. Some of the other requisites are categories that Kaepernick has historically struggled in throughout his career.

Kelly said the rundown of what he wants in his quarterback is what essentially what anyone looks for, perhaps just worded more eloquently:

“How well are they operating? What’s their decision-making process? Are they hanging too long on a read? Are they quick to move on if in their progression, one or two are covered, how quickly do they get to three? Do they get stuck? Do they get caught in seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 holding the ball too long? You know, part of it is getting the ball out on time. It’s a timing-based offense in terms of getting the ball out. So, those are things that you can observe.”

But that doesn’t mean that Gabbert is the runaway bet to get the starting nod when the 49ers open the season against the Los Angeles Rams. The incumbent starter at the end of last season has struggled to find his receivers as well, despite having been a full participant in the offseason programs.

Of course, the receivers themselves haven’t necessarily helped either of the competitor’s case. After losing WR Eric Rogers for the season due to a torn ACL, the talent pool for the No. 2 spot got slimmer on Friday.

Receivers Ellington, Jerome Simpson, Quinton Patton and a slew of other young players are all fighting for more playing time, but the defense has undermined their efforts since the start of training camp.

Shawn Whelchel is SFBay’s San Francisco 49ers beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at for full coverage of 49ers football.

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