How Jim Harbaugh Can Revive Careers of Newest 49ers Acquisitions

Nicholas McGeeContributor IMarch 25, 2014

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 29:  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7, wide receiver Anquan Boldin #81 and head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 29, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona.  The 49ers defeated the Cardinals 23-20.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers have not been headline-makers in free agency; however, a number of their moves did raise some eyebrows.

Antoine Bethea was brought in to replace departed strong safety Donte Whitner in a move that guarantees San Francisco will be able to pair Eric Reid with an experienced veteran in 2014.

But the trades to acquire quarterback Blaine Gabbert and offensive tackle Jonathan Martin and the free-agent signing of cornerback Chris Cook are far more questionable.

Each of that trio has endured a difficult start to their respective NFL careers, which they will be hoping to revive with San Francisco.

Luckily for Gabbert, Martin and Cook, the 49ers possess one the best head coaches and motivators in the league.

Here I look at how San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh can help turn around the fortunes of the these largely unheralded acquisitions.

The Stats

Gabbert, Martin and Cook have all found life difficult so far in the NFL, and the statistics certainly back up that statement

Former Jacksonville Jaguars' QB Gabbert was picked up in exchange for a sixth-round draft pick, despite enduring a nightmare first three seasons in Florida.

The ex-Missouri Tiger ranked at No. 38 in the NFL in his rookie year in 2011 and at No. 27 in 2012, as per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), as he struggled on a dismal Jacksonville team.

Chad Henne displaced the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft as starter in 2013, with Gabbert playing only three games in his final season with the Jaguars.

Martin's NFL career may have been disrupted by the Miami Dolphins' bullying scandal, which came to light midway through the 2013 campaign, yet the 49ers still saw enough to recruit him through a trade for a conditional draft choice.

But Martin will likely need to improve if he is to make an impact with San Francisco. 

Indeed, the former Stanford Cardinal finished his rookie season at No. 76 among all offensive tackles, and allowed seven sacks in as many games in 2013.

Meanwhile, Cook struggled to make any sort of impression in four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.

The Niners signed the ex-Virginia Cavalier to a one-year contract, a move that represents a low-risk gamble on a player who did not have a single interception while in Minnesota.

Cook was nothing short of a liability for the Vikings last season, ranking at No. 95 among all corners and allowing nine touchdowns while in coverage, and will have to produce a substantial turnaround in performances if he is to be a success in San Francisco.

How Harbaugh Can Help

Blaine Gabbert

In addition to guiding the 49ers to three straight NFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl appearance, Coach Harbaugh has developed a reputation for moulding quarterbacks.

He did it with Alex Smith before benching him in favour of Colin Kaepernick, who he has developed into arguably the premier dual-threat quarterback in the NFL.

Blaine Gabbert failed to flourish in his time with Jacksonville
Blaine Gabbert failed to flourish in his time with JacksonvilleDilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Kaepernick remains a work in progress, but Harbaugh now has a new project in Gabbert.

Gabbert may have endured a dreadful NFL career so far, but in Harbaugh, he will have a mentor who has been through all the ups and downs of a professional quarterback.

Harbaugh was able to use his experience and knowledge to help transform the fortunes of Smith, a player who shares a number of similarities with Gabbert.

Both were first-round picks, with Smith a first overall selection in the 2005 draft who was considered a bust prior to Harbaugh's arrival.

But Harbaugh put his faith in Smith, and the former Utah Ute delivered, guiding the Niners to the NFC title game in 2011 before being replaced by Kaepernick and eventually traded to the Kansas City Chiefs, leading them to the playoffs in 2013.

And Gabbert revealed that he would like to replicate Smith's revival, as per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee:

You always hear the comparisons. Alex is a great quarterback, and he's done extremely well in Kansas City. And he's a guy that you look and you like to emulate yourself after - seeing the struggles he went through early on his career with all the changes that were going on around him and the way he's persevered through injuries, through all those changes to put himself in the position he's in now and take their team to the playoffs.

Unlike Smith, Gabbert does not have the pressure of being a starting quarterback and will have time to hone his craft under the tutelage of Harbaugh.

San Francisco will not have lost much if Gabbert does not make a good impression with the 49ers, but with Harbaugh at the helm and no expectations on his shoulders, do not be surprised if Gabbert is able to resurrect his career.

Jonathan Martin

Of all of San Francisco's acquisitions, it is Martin who comes with the most stigma attached.

Martin left the Dolphins on October 30 as a result of what the Wells Report deemed to be a "pattern of harassment", as per The New York Times, from teammates Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey and John Jerry, and did not return. 

The switch to the 49ers represents a return home for Martin, who grew up in Los Angeles and spent his collegiate career with Stanford, less than 14 miles outside of the Niners' new home in Santa Clara, where he was coached by Harbaugh prior to his appointment with San Francisco.

Martin may have played at a subpar level in Miami, but in an interview with NFL Network's Steve Wyche, Harbaugh expressed confidence that the 24-year-old will be able to take advantage of a "powerful opportunity" to get his career back on track:

"Someone like Glenn Dorsey," Harbaugh said of his expectations for Martin. "Glenn was the No. 2 pick (Note: No. 5) in the (2008) draft. Maybe not living up to someone's expectations there, comes to the San Francisco 49ers and has a tremendous year. It's just a powerful opportunity, a powerful motivator."

"Like an Etch-A-Sketch," the coach said of Martin's future. "Lifting a page of the Etch-A-Sketch and write a whole new history for yourself."

Harbaugh is likely to play a key role in Martin's development, and his presence and familiarity with the 2012 second-round pick can only be a positive thing.

Both Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman should be well-versed in how to motivate and get the best out of Martin, who should benefit from the Stanford connection that runs deep in the 49ers organization.

As with Gabbert, Martin is not expected to be under any pressure to start but may get the chance to feature on one of the best offensive lines in football as a swing tackle or in the 49ers' heavy formation.

A strong offseason will be required if Martin is to make sure of his place on the roster for the 2014 season.

However, there can be no doubt that Martin is joining a winning environment, and with a familiar and supremely talented coach in command, there is little preventing him from showcasing the quality that first convinced the Dolphins to select him in the early rounds.

Chris Cook

Cook arguably has the most to gain out of all the recent 49ers recruits.

San Francisco's depth at cornerback has been considerably depleted by Tarell Brown's move across the bay to the Oakland Raiders and the 49ers' decision to release Carlos Rogers.

The 49ers are expected to add to the position in the draft, but the fact remains that Cook has an opportunity to be a significant contributor in 2014.

Oct 27, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook (20) signals an incomplete pass after breaking one up intended for a Green Bay Packers wide receiver in the third quarter at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. The Packers
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Cook's measurables will appeal to San Franciscohe stands at 6'2" and 212 poundsyet he was unable to put his impressive physical tools to full use while at Minnesota.

Harbaugh may not have a direct impact on Cook's fortunes with the 49ers, but one of his coaching staff almost certainly will.

San Francisco re-signed secondary coach Ed Donatell for two more years, as per's Bill Williamson, an assistant who has been credited with aiding the development of likely 2014 starters Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock, as well as free safety Reid.

Cook's physique has been compared to that of Seattle Seahawks corner Richard Sherman, and the 27-year-old could soon prove to be an affordable and valuable addition to the Niners secondary if Donatell and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio can help him make best use of those attributes.


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