We’re going to run these mailbags during Tuesdays throughout the regular season, but with the preseason finale this week coming Thursday, we put together a Monday edition before coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch trim the roster to 53 players by 1 p.m. Saturday.
To your questions!
@FreddiePSoft asks: Should we be worried about #10’s interception problem?
▪ Jimmy Garoppolo doesn’t hesitate when it comes to throwing passes into tight windows. But with that comes risky decisions, like two throws in Saturday’s preseason game that could have been intercepted by Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard.
Garoppolo was tacked with five interceptions during his five games as the starter during 2017, including two in the finale against the Los Angeles Rams. If there’s a concern about his game in the early going, those risky plays might be it. His 16-interception pace would have tied him with Cam Newton for second most in the NFL last season (the Cleveland Browns’ DeShone Kizer had 22).
But not all of the interceptions fall solely on Garoppolo’s shoulders. His lone interception this preseason, for example, could have (and probably should have) been caught by rookie receiver Dante Pettis. His interception against the Jacksonville Jaguars last season came when he was hit while throwing to a receiver in the end zone, and Louis Murphy had a ball ripped from his hands during Garoppolo’s first start, a win over the Bears in Chicago.
Pro Football Focus’ metrics say Garoppolo in 2017 had a 2.55-percent rate of turnover worthy plays, good for sixth best among qualified quarterbacks. With a better understanding of the offense and more chemistry with his pass catchers in Year 2, that number could improve. Either way, five games is a small sample size and we’re still not entirely sure about how good Garoppolo is at avoiding interceptions. Ask again in the winter.
@Panikkar37 asks: Based on how Alfred Morris has looked, could the 49ers be cautious with Jerick McKinnon and have Morris start Week 1?
▪ That’s a possibility. But it looks like McKinnon is close to making a full return. His workout before Saturday’s game was pretty extensive, both taking carries and running routes with staffers. Either way, there’s a good chance Morris is a member of the active roster to ensure McKinnon and Matt Breida don’t have to carry a heavy load while coming back from their injuries. Morris has the trust of the coaching staff and has proven durable throughout his career.
Remember, the 49ers have an extra roster spot available because of Reuben Foster’s two-game suspension. They could use that on a running back after keeping just three throughout last season. Morris, at 222 pounds, seems like a good complement to the 205-pound McKinnon and 200-pound Breida. Raheem Mostert, who dropped an easy screen pass in Indianapolis, looks like a lock to make the cut due to his work on special teams.
@thelaughingdirt asks: I noticed that Jullian Taylor didn’t get many reps against the Colts. Is that a result of Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas back from injury, or could they be planning to try to get him on the practice squad? (Any chance I could get one of those sweet Bee T-shirts Matt Barrows dangled to us?)
▪ I think Taylor will make the team. Shanahan prefers that reserve players get extensive playing time in one game rather than sparse playing time over two games. It allows them to find a rhythm rather than running in and out of games.
There’s a short turnaround with the Los Angeles Chargers coming to Levi’s Stadium on Thursday. Armstead and Thomas will likely sit that game out, giving Taylor a chance at playing the entire game. He’ll be fresh after getting just 12 snaps in Indy.
(I’ll run your shirt request up the chain.)
@mrsethmichael asks: Assuming Aaron Burbridge is cut to make room for Richie James, who do you see filling the void as a gunner opposite Raheem Mostert?
▪ Rookie third-round pick Tarvarius Moore is built like an ideal gunner. He’s tall (6-2), long (33-inch arms) and fast (4.32 in the 40-yard dash). And he’s tough as a former safety. Though we haven’t seen him work at gunner much throughout the preseason because Burbridge and Mostert have been handling those duties. I imagine Moore has received plenty of practice reps over the last two weeks in sessions that have been closed off to the media.
Another option is fifth-round pick D.J. Reed, who has the feistiness and aggressiveness for the position. Reed has made a strong impression throughout his first NFL training camp and preseason. He’s learning two positions at once (slot corner and free safety), which is a great way to endear yourself to a coaching staff. He can also return kicks and punts, giving him the ideal versatility for the back end of the roster.
Other options could include Tyvis Powell, Greg Mabin or Jimmie Ward, if Ward can stay healthy enough to contribute. Speaking of ...
@Maximill15 asks: Does Ward mark the team?
▪ Yes. Shanahan is a fan of Ward’s, as is the front office, despite his long injury history.
“It’s just unfortunate. Jimmie looks really hard and I love Jimmie as a player,” Shanahan said in a conference call Sunday. “He’s very tough and he has gotten hurt a lot, but I don’t question any of those. Jimmie throws his body around, he works very hard and he’s just been very unfortunate. I feel for him because I know he’s as frustrated with it as anyone. Hopefully this quad thing won’t be too long because if it’s not, we expect him to help us out a lot this year just like he did last year when he was healthy and just like he did before we got here when he was healthy. But, he’s had a tough run of luck here and hopefully that’ll start to get better for him.”
The 49ers made Ward the team’s highest paid defensive player by picking up his fifth-year option in May 2017. His entire $8.5 million salary is guaranteed, whether he plays a down or not. So there would be little sense in releasing him, particularly since they feel he provides value as a backup at cornerback, nickel and free safety.
The 49ers likely wouldn’t have retained Ward without their glut of cap space. They will likely roll over some $40 million in cap space into next season, when they could have roughly $66 million in room.
@BobbyJHorne asks: Has Garnett shown enough to be the guy at RG?
▪ It appears that way, which is surprising given Garnett looked like he wouldn’t survive final cuts two weeks ago when his balky knee injury prevented him from practicing. But he’s answered the questions about fitting in Shanahan’s scheme and could be an asset in the running game, which has struggled throughout most of the exhibition slate.
The 49ers figure they can be patient. Remember, they didn’t solidify the interior of the offensive line until Week 2 last season after they acquired Laken Tomlinson from the Detroit Lions during final cuts. Mike Person, who has been starting at right guard, is also the top backup center with Erik Magnuson out for the foreseeable future with a hamstring injury.
It’s worth noting the 49ers guaranteed $4 million to Jonathan Cooper this offseason after his career year in Dallas last season. Cooper is still working back into the fold following offseason knee surgery and could end up getting playing time down the road when he’s fully recovered. Magnuson’s injury makes it likely both Garnett and Cooper make the team, which didn’t seem likely two weeks ago.
Follow The Bee’s Chris Biderman: @ChrisBiderman