5 takeaways: San Francisco 49ers preseason vs. Denver Broncos
The sky isn’t falling on Kyle Shanahan the same way it might be for fans who watched Jimmy Garoppolo struggle in his preseason debut for the 49ers on Monday night.
Despite completing just one pass for no gain, throwing an interception to cornerback Isaac Yiadom and Broncos defenders getting hands on his first four throws, Shanahan doesn’t think Garoppolo got enough of an opportunity to be concerned about the way his $137.5 million quarterback played.
“You always want to play better,” Shanahan said. “But to get concerned over 10 plays, or however many it was, that’s pretty irresponsible.”
Garoppolo in his first game action since Sept. 23, when he tore his left ACL, completed just 1 of 6 passes and nearly threw a second interception to defensive back De’Vante Bausby on his second possession. Garoppolo played just three series and appeared skittish under pressure, which was a strength when he made his splashy debut in 2017 after being acquired in a trade from the New England Patriots.
But Shanahan has long expected Garoppolo’s career won’t always be like when he went 5-0 in his initial starts. Garoppolo has made just 10 starts in his five seasons and hasn’t experienced the peaks and valleys of a full 16-game schedule.
The bad showing Monday came on the heels of a five-interception practice last Wednesday that garnered national headlines. Shanahan said Garoppolo hasn’t been rattled and remained consistent in meetings and on the practice field. Though he acknowledged the difficulties that come with being under the microscope and not performing up to expectations.
“I know any time that you get all that publicity for things you’re not happy with,” Shanahan said, “that’s going to affect a lot of people. And you got to go out there and play and you get your confidence back by playing. There’s not a magical motivational speech or anything. Jimmy’s got the ability to do it, we know he will do it.”
Garoppolo will start again in the third exhibition game Saturday in Kansas City and is expected to play more than he did in Denver. The 49ers will have two practices closed to reporters Wednesday and Thursday that aren’t expected to be full speed because they will be traveling on a short week.
It’s expected Saturday’s game will be Garoppolo’s final tuneup before the regular season opener Sept. 8 in Tampa Bay. The goal will be to get him in a better rhythm to avoid repeating his performance from Monday.
“What stinks is when you go out there and you just a few opportunities and it doesn’t go right, and you’re not in a position to play yourself out of it,” said Shanahan. “Hopefully he’ll get to play longer versus Kansas City. I hope it’s all good things. But most likely there will be some good, some bad, and then we’ll see how long he can stay in and grow from it.”
Reinforcements coming to O-line?
The five blockers in front of Garoppolo on Monday didn’t do him any favors. He was pressured by an unblocked Bradley Chubb, who had 12 sacks as a rookie last season, leading to throwing the pass to running back Matt Breida that was intercepted. Shanahan noted Garoppolo had more time to let the play develop, but he felt the pressure and let the ball go too early.
Shanahan said Chubb went unblocked because there was a miscommunication on the left side between tackle Joe Staley and guard Laken Tomlinson. On the right side, guard Najee Toran was responsible for blocking Shelby Harris, who deflected two of Garoppolo’s passes at the line of scrimmage.
Toran is next in line at guard behind starter Mike Person and 2016 first-round pick Joshua Garnett, who could return to practice this week with his right hand in a cast to protect his surgically repaired dislocated finger. Shanahan said Person is day-to-day after leaving practice Friday with his foot in a walking boot. Person could return to practice this week though his status for Saturday is up in the air.
Additionally, center Weston Richburg could be activated off the physically unable to perform list next week before the preseason finale against the Chargers, putting him in line to return for Week 1. That would allow Ben Garland, the current starter at center, to return to backup duties, offering San Francisco more depth. Shanahan wouldn’t rule out Richburg suiting up against L.A. to knock rust off before playing against Tampa.
The 49ers could get running back Jerick McKinnon back on the practice field as soon as this week, though he isn’t likely to participate in full-team drills. McKinnon was shut down Aug. 8 after experiencing soreness in his surgically repaired right knee to have platelet-rich plasma injection therapy, which takes roughly two weeks.
Shanahan said when McKinnon was shut down, the team expected to have 18 days to try and get him ready for the start of the regular season. Eighteen days from the opener is Wednesday and McKinnon isn’t expected back on the practice field until Thursday, Shanahan said.
“With it being a short week and the practices we have, I don’t think we will do it (Wednesday),” Shanahan said. “Maybe the day after we’ll start putting him through individual stuff. But I don’t think he’s going to be able to do team drills and stuff this week.”
▪ Shanahan said he isn’t likely to name a backup to Garopppolo until final cuts are made a week before the opener, and indicated Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard remain on equal footing heading into the final two preseason games.
“There’s a lot more playing time for both of them to get here,” said Shanahan. “I feel very good with both the guys, we’ve had both of the guys here in a lot of game situations, but it’s been a fun battle to watch and I think both of them are playing better than they have the last two years.”
▪ Shanahan said given the nature of the short turnaround this week, defensive end Dee Ford is unlikely to return to the practice field and play against his former team Saturday. Ford was shut down from practice after dealing with knee tendinitis earlier this month and is expected to return next week.