New 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert will have to carry a makeshift supporting cast

It won't be easy for Blaine Gabbert as he steps into Colin Kaepernick's role as starter.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Blaine Gabbert shouldn't expect to have much help Sunday against the Falcons when he makes his first start since 2013.

Replacing Colin Kaepernick, who was benched this week by the 49ers, Gabbert faces the possibility of playing without three of San Francisco's starting skill position players coming into the season.

Running back Carlos Hyde and receiver Anquan Boldin didn't play in last week's 27-6 loss to the Rams, and were held out of the team's first practice this week. Additionally, tight end Vernon Davis, who led the team with 10 catches on 14 targets the last two games, was traded to the Denver Broncos.

"We're going through a little rough patch here and I've been through plenty of those in Jacksonville," Gabbert said Wednesday, "and the biggest thing that we have to focus on is just sticking to our routine, sticking to our guns."

But as the starting quarterback, Gabbert's routine will change drastically. Instead of spending practice working on the scout team, trying to provide looks for the 49ers' starting defense, Gabbert will be getting the majority of reps with the first team offense.

Without Davis, and potentially Hyde and Boldin, Gabbert's work this week will be done with a new stable of running backs, including veteran Pierre Thomas and well-traveled journeyman Shaun Draughn. At tight end, the team's most consistent player this year, Garrett Celek, was held out of practice while going through the league's concussion protocol.

That leaves Vance McDonald and rookie Blake Bell as Gabbert's only healthy tight ends, who have 20 career catches combined.

Of course, the start to Gabbert's career in Jacksonville didn't go according to plan after the Jaguars used the 10th-overall pick in 2011 on the Missouri alum - 26 picks ahead of where San Francisco took Kaepernick.

Gabbert was benched three games into his third season after completing fewer than half his throws, while throwing for just one touchdown and seven interceptions. After the season, the Jaguars' former franchise quarterback was traded to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick and a conditional pick.

Gabbert was just 21 when he first came into the league, and says he's grown since then, as one would expect of a player in his fifth season.

"Just the experience that I've had preparing for games, playing in games, starting in games, being a back up quarterback. It's valuable over time to have those repetitions in practice and on the game field," Gabbert said.

Gabbert didn't exactly impress during his first chance with San Francisco. In the preseason of 2014, he completed 22 of 47 throws (47 percent) for 186 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Gabbert was upstaged by former 49ers backup Josh Johnson, who completed 75 percent of his throws while leading the team with a 110.8 preseason quarterback rating.

However, the 49ers elected to keep Gabbert as Kaepernick's back up. Oddly enough, he was San Francisco's only quarterback to throw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. He found receiver Bruce Ellington for a 20-yard score with a minute remaining in a 42-17 loss to the Broncos.

This summer, Gabbert showed significant improvement in new coordinator Geep Chryst's offense, completing 82 percent of his preseason attempts, while hitting tight ends on a majority of his throws.

"It's just a learning experience because all quarterbacks want to have long careers and there's going to be up and downs, bumps in the road," Gabbert said. "But at the same time, you just have to keep pushing forward because you never know when your opportunity is going to be."

What does head coach Jim Tomsula like about his new starting quarterback?

"The ball he throws. The preparation," Tomsula said. "We're talking about what we've seen preseason and in practice. He has done nothing but improve the way he's throwing the football and the way he handles the offense. I just like what he's doing and I want to put him in there."

The Falcons Sunday will bring the league's 24th-ranked passing defense to Levi's Stadium that's allowing 262 yards per game. Their sack rate of 3.12 percent, ranks 31st in the NFL.

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Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.

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