San Francisco 49ers

‘It was a sick pass’: How Garoppolo’s baseball background helps his improv skills

Some of Jimmy Garoppolo’s best plays with the 49ers this season have been improvised.
Some of Jimmy Garoppolo’s best plays with the 49ers this season have been improvised.

Jimmy can throw. Jimmy can run. Jimmy can lead.

There were certain traits the 49ers were confident their new quarterback possessed when they traded for him in late October. But Jimmy Garoppolo’s impeccable improvisational skills have been a pleasant surprise.

Coach Kyle Shanahan on Tuesday noted that the spread offense Garoppolo ran at Eastern Illinois was predicated on him getting rid of the ball as soon as it was snapped, so there were not many opportunities to figure out what Garoppolo could do when a play broke down.

“So you didn’t get to see it as much,” Shanahan said of the quarterback’s ability to wing it. “Saw it a couple of times in the few games he played in New England, and since he’s been here, he’s been great with it. It’s been nice. We’ve gotten a number of three-man rushes in the red zone and when you get that (the play) is … going to go off schedule, and he’s done a real good job of creating down there and getting us some points.”

Garoppolo’s first touchdown as a 49er, in relief against the Seattle Seahawks, came when he had to ad-lib from the 10-yard line. He had an even more impressive example Sunday, one in which he ran to his left, had to negotiate an incoming defender, Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Aaron Colvin, then side-armed a throw that somehow made it past Colvin to receiver Trent Taylor for a five-yard touchdown.

Taylor explained later that Garoppolo’s first read was to his right. But the Jaguars dropped eight defenders into coverage and took away that side of the field. Taylor and receiver Marquise Goodwin were the third and fourth reads on the opposite side of the end zone.

“I didn’t see him release the ball at all,” Taylor said. “All I saw was the ball, all of a sudden, flying at me. It was a sick pass, for sure.”

The play had the gunslinger quality NFL fans have seen from Brett Favre, and more recently, from Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.

Wilson’s improvisational ability has been at least partially explained by his baseball background. The Colorado Rockies took Wilson, a second baseman, in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. His NFL coach, Pete Carroll, has said his quarterback’s infielder background – contorting his body, throwing off balance with his arm cocked at various angles – allows him to release a football in a variety of ways.

“He’s got every throw,” Carroll said in 2012. “And as a second baseman, there’s all kinds of screwball, weird things that you’ve got to do with the ball to make plays, double plays and the different positions you get in. He’s got an array of throws when he needs them that just come out naturally.”

Asked about his sidearm touchdown Sunday, Garoppolo also cited his baseball background. He was a pitcher in high school – and also a basketball point guard – before focusing on football.

“The guy was in front of me so I had to throw it around him,” he said after the game. “Playing baseball paid off, I guess, today.”

Shanahan, however, says baseball only goes so far in explaining some of throws Garoppolo has made in his short stint as starter.

“You do see it from shortstops and second basemen, especially when they’re turning two,” he said. “But it’s a little bit harder to do with the football, and a little bit harder to do when you’re running to your left. So there are not many people who can make that throw, but I’m glad we’ve got one of the guys who can.”

Injuries – Shanahan said linebacker Reuben Foster (shoulder) and safety Adrian Colbert (shoulder) would be limited in practice this week. He said the so-called “stingers” Foster has experienced in recent games are not related to the rotator-cuff surgery he had in February.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at