Jimmy Garoppolo not only will make his first start for the 49ers on Sunday. He’ll do so in his hometown of Chicago.
Kyle Shanahan informed his quarterbacks of his decision on Tuesday, presumably after evaluating C.J. Beathard, who had to come out of the most recent game after a big hit from Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett.
Shanahan said previously that whoever starts against the Bears must get all of the practice repetitions beginning with Wednesday’s session. With Beathard dealing with a left knee bruise and hip strain, Shanahan likely felt compelled to go with the only fully healthy option, Garoppolo.
He entered Sunday’s game for Beathard with 1:07 remaining and connected with receiver Louis Murphy on San Francisco’s only touchdown of the game, a 10-yard throw in the corner of the end zone. Murphy and Garoppolo worked together during the team’s bye week recently and they’ve developed a bit of a rapport, something that Garoppolo will start establishing with pass catchers Marquise Goodwin, Carlos Hyde and George Kittle this week.
Garoppolo grew up in Arlington Heights, Ill., which is about 25 miles northwest of Soldier Field in Chicago. His family – he has three brothers who played high school football – cheered for the home team, although the Bears paraphernalia was replaced with Patriots gear when New England drafted Garoppolo in the second round out of Eastern Illinois in 2014.
The family home is now in the process of being converted again, this time with a red and gold theme. The Patriots never visited the Bears when Garoppolo was with them, which means that Sunday’s game will be his first in the Chicago area since Eastern Illinois fell to Northwestern 42-21 on Sept. 10, 2011.
The Garoppolos were in the Levi’s Stadium stands Sunday to see Jimmy’s first-ever touchdown with his new team.
“It was exciting to see him in a 49ers uniform,” his older brother, Mike, said Tuesday on a phone call. “Then obviously when he got to play, it kind of put the icing on top of that cake.”
The 49ers traded a second-round draft pick for Garoppolo on Oct. 30 and he arrived in Santa Clara a day later. Shanahan has said that he wanted to put Garoppolo in the best position possible when he makes his true 49ers debut, which involves arming him with the team’s playbook.
That process is not complete – Shanahan has said Garoppolo won’t fully know the system until next year – but the new quarterback knew enough to make three positive plays on Sunday and to get the starting nod in Chicago. Those three plays were a scramble for four yards, a completion to Aldrick Robinson and the touchdown to Murphy.
“Like I said, it’s a work in progress,” Garoppolo said after the Seahawks game. “I’m upset the ref didn’t give me the first down on that slide, I thought I had it. I guess it worked out. Little critiques here and there that I could get better, even in those first few plays.”
To this point Garoppolo’s practices have involved watching Beathard run the first-team offense. Now the roles will be reversed.
“He’s learned a lot from watching C.J. and talking,” Shanahan said Monday. “He asks a lot of questions. Those guys are great in there. We don’t hold anything back. Stuff C.J. is seeing, it’s not like he waits until we’re alone to talk about it. He’ll say it right there and Jimmy will ask a question and vice versa. They definitely help each other. We’ve got a very competitive room, but we’ve also got a lot of confident people that when we’re in there we’re working our hardest to get better.”