49ers QB coach on why Jimmy Garoppolo will be even better this year
Coach Kyle Shanahan and 49ers CEO Jed York look out their office windows from time to time and see something encouraging on the practice field.
It’s the franchise quarterback showing signs of recovering following his ACL tear that derailed the 2018 season. A “bulked-up” Jimmy Garoppolo is back to throwing and doing football things, offering Shanahan and York a refreshing reminder of what things could look like if San Francisco’s most important player can stay healthy.
“It’s a tease for us because we look out our windows and he’s doing drops and throwing great to the equipment managers and trainers,” Shanahan said Tuesday at the owners meetings. “So I’m sure Jed’s up there thinking he can play. I do, too, at times. But no one’s running at him trying to tackle him. So it’s very controlled movements. When he does all that, it does look very good, which means he’s getting closer. Hopefully, it’ll be full go for training camp, and I think we’ll get a lot of work with him for OTAs also.”
The plan for Garoppolo is to take things slowly and incorporate him into full-team, 11-on-11 drills during training camp in late July. In the meantime, the 49ers will rotate backup quarterbacks Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard with the starters during spring practices.
Garoppolo faces the challenge of getting back into a groove after spending most of the last six months rehabbing his left knee. His mastery of Shanahan’s complex offense is still a work in progress. The chemistry with his pass catchers will need to be built up.
“Everything is about reps,” Shanahan said. “Even if you knew the offense inside and out, there’s rust for everybody. You have to throw, you got to do it all the time. There’s a rhythm to playing football, especially at the quarterback position. If you’re not out there, you lose that rhythm and there’s rust. That’s why guys come back from injury and it does take some time, not because they’re not healed. Because it takes a while to get your rhythm back for whatever spot you’re playing.”
Garoppolo’s rehab kept him from running and the conditioning of a typical offseason. It’s led to him gaining muscle mass due to more time in the weight room. The 49ers hope it can lead to more durability when defensive linemen are trying to take him down next fall. Garoppolo has suffered two significant injuries in 10 career starts.
“I think that’s a natural thing that happens when guys go through these injuries,” Shanahan said. “I’ve always been good with Jimmy’s size. I think he’s always been bigger than people realize. To me, it’s all about how, just how can you take a hit? It’s not like lifting weights and doing that stuff makes you throw farther. It actually can be the opposite.”
Shanahan reiterated Monday something he maintained throughout last season, even as Mullens overtook Beathard for the starting job over the final eight games: Both players are even in the competition to back up Garoppolo. He hasn’t even picked which player will take the first-team reps in May.
“(We’ll) flip a coin the first day,” Shanahan said, chuckling.
The numbers say Mullens, the 2017 undrafted rookie and former practice squad player, was the more effective signal caller than Beathard, the 2017 third-round draft pick.
The team went 3-5 in Mullens’ starts and 0-5 in Beathard’s. Mullens had the edge in completion percentage (64.2 to 60.4), yards per game (284.6 to 208.7), yards per attempt (8.3 to 7.4) and passer rating (90.8 to 81.8).
But Shanahan views both on an equal playing field because there’s more to it than raw numbers.
“It’s been tough for C.J. He’s been thrown in some tough situations,” Shanahan said. “... He didn’t get to play with a better team like Nick did and Jimmy did. I think that was just a little bit of more bad luck for him.”
Mullens spent his first NFL season on the practice squad after going undrafted out of Southern Mississippi. Beathard was drafted to groom as a backup with the chance to become a starter down the road but has started 10 games out of necessity because of Brian Hoyer’s struggles in 2017 and Garoppolo’s injury last September.
Mullens was given his starting opportunity against the Raiders in November following an injury to Beathard’s throwing hand. Mullens took advantage and had one of the most impressive statistical debuts in recent history, completing 73 percent of his passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-3 victory, San Francisco’s most lopsided win since Shanahan was hired.
“Never went into the year expecting that because you don’t go into the year expecting guys to get hurt,” Shanahan said. “But Nick got his opportunity and he didn’t let it go back. We’re real excited with him, proud of how he played. I know he’ll be better coming back from this offseason. And C.J. will also.”
Of course, Shanahan hopes the battle to back up Garoppolo proves inconsequential.