San Francisco 49ers

Jimmy Garoppolo vows to ‘fight’ back after poor preseason debut

49ers coach Shanahan updates on Ward’s status, Garoppolo preseason opener plans

San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan talks about upcoming season following practice on Tuesday, August 7, 2018, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
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San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan talks about upcoming season following practice on Tuesday, August 7, 2018, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

It didn’t take Joe Staley long to recall one of the worst games of his career. The mirror offers a daily reminder.

“My nose was broken. It still looks terrible,” the 49ers left tackle said.

The 13-year veteran was recalling the 2012 season opener against the Packers. Staley was matched up with star pass rusher Clay Matthews, who was beginning his fourth-straight Pro Bowl season.

“(He) whipped my butt,” Staley said. “I gave up three sacks, had about six other pressures. One of the worst games of my life.”

Staley said he rebounded to have one of the best games of his All-Pro season the following week against the Detroit Lions. He said it was because he was able to study his mistakes and make adjustments during the week of preparation.

“It’s just kind of like the way you readjust your mind and get back on the practice field and go to work,” he said.

And that’s the process this week for Staley’s quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, who enters an important preseason game Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

A dreadful start

Garoppolo, of course, is coming off a discouraging performance in his 2019 debut Monday versus the Denver Broncos, where he completed just 1 of 6 passes for zero yards, threw an interception and had a pass dropped by a defender.

Normally a preseason debut wouldn’t cause a stir, let alone dominate headlines. But it was Garoppolo’s first game returning from his left ACL tear 11 months ago. His pocket presence and mobility – staples during his successful 5-0 stint as the starter in 2017 – appeared lost.

It makes Saturday in Kansas City, where he sustained the left knee injury Sept. 23, likely the final chance for Garoppolo to regain his rhythm and confidence in a game setting before the regular season opener in just over two weeks. He’s unlikely to suit up for the exhibition finale next Thursday against the Chargers.

“I know that any time you come back from an injury there’s a bunch of mental hurdles you’ve got to get over even when you are healthy and feeling good,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.

Shanahan said he would like to let Garoppolo play the entire first half and noted the decision on when to pull him for either Nick Mullens or C.J. Beathard will be based on snap count on how he’s playing. Garoppolo, after all, appeared in just three games last year and has only 10 NFL starts over his five seasons. It remains to be seen if he can help the 49ers become a perennial contender.

“All Jimmy needs is just to play football, whether he’s coming back from an injury or not,” Shanahan said. “We thought we were going to get that last year and unfortunately we didn’t, and that was out of everyone’s control. Now we’re back to that, plus he’s coming off an injury with it. I want Jimmy to play as much as possible in the preseason and into the regular season, but that’s a fine line too.”

We’ve got a locker room full of guys that want to fight’

The 49ers only want to play Garoppolo behind the starting offensive line in the preseason. But they also don’t want to risk injuries to Staley, Mike McGlinchey, Laken Tomlinson and Mike Person, which will limit Garoppolo’s overall workload. Ben Garland, currently the starting center, is occupying the spot vacated by Weston Richburg, who could return to practice next week.

The offensive line could use some game work, too. There was a pre-snap miscommunication about protection which led to Broncos pass rusher Bradley Chubb going unblocked and pressuring Garoppolo before he tossed his interception on his second pass attempt. The starters didn’t play in the preseason opener against Dallas.

Garoppolo also had two passes broken up at the line of scrimmage by a Denver defensive tackle being blocked by Najee Toran, who was playing due to injuries to Person and Joshua Garnett.

But the feeling from Garoppolo, who has “Robot Mindset” written on his wrist band, is to ignore the reaction from his performance Monday and use his 11 snaps to build on.

“Throughout my entire football career, there’s always going to be that noise and everything, but you just have to block it out,” he said. “We have so much going on in our meetings and the locker room, you’re just trying to take all that in (and) if you start worrying about the outside noise, you’ve got no chance at being successful.

“... You could crumple up and kind of go into a fetal position and surrender or you could go out and fight. We’ve got a locker room full of guys that want to fight, and myself included.”

Practices and scrutiny

Garoppolo played mostly well during training camp practices open to reporters. He went roughly a week and a half before throwing an interception during team drills, though his game against Denver came five days after his now-infamous five-interception practice in Santa Clara.

“I’m very hard on myself,” Garoppolo said, “especially (Monday) night watching the film, the next day watching the film. At some point, you have to move on. You’re still trying to correct those mistakes and not make the same mistakes twice, but if you just dwell on the past and dwell on that one game, you’re going to get stuck there and you will have no success going forward. I think it’s good to be hard on yourself, but at some point, you’ve got to move forward.”

It’s only August and Saturday is just another preseason game. Yet the stakes feel elevated, given the concern that Garoppolo may never return to be the quarterback that sparked so much optimism during his brief stints replacing Tom Brady with the Patriots and when he became San Francisco’s starter following the midseason trade in 2017.

Garoppolo, before last season’s injury, hadn’t dealt with scrutiny that comes with his $137.5 million contract and being branded the face of the franchise. Shanahan is eager to see how his quarterback handles it.

“That’s to me what is the hardest thing about our business. That’s what’s the hardest thing about the position,” Shanahan said. “How can you handle that pressure week in and week out? How can you play in the game when you’re in the pocket and things are moving?

“When you’re very clear-minded and everything’s going right and you have that ability it’s not too tough. But, I promise you no matter who you are as a quarterback, especially, you will go through rough patches and everyone will come down on you whether it’s your fault or not. It doesn’t matter. You’ve got to deal with it. That’s the challenge of this position.”

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