As San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo stood on the sideline at the start of the second quarter, he put his hands on his hips, sighed and smiled. Completing one of six passes for no yards and one interception, Garoppolo’s evening in Denver wasn’t anything special, but at least he’d gotten it out of the way.
“It’s something that I haven’t done in a year, obviously,” Garoppolo said. “So, I’ve got to knock the rust off and everything. Thankfully we have a short a week this week.”
As he returns to Kansas City this Saturday for the first time since tearing his ACL 11 months ago, Garoppolo is still looking to get into a groove. As the 49ers prepare for their third game in 10 days, they are still looking for Garoppolo’s backup.
Garoppolo’s time on the field was limited to three abbreviated drives, as he lined up exclusively in the shotgun and felt frequent pressure from the Broncos’ Bradley Chubb. There were no easy pitch-and-catch throws to get him in a rhythm, and half of his offensive line was hurt.
“To get concerned over 10 plays, that’s pretty irresponsible,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “You try to evaluate those 10 plays.”
Having gone 1-for-6 with a pick, two deflected passes and another broken up down field, Garoppolo admitted to feeling at least some anxiety headed into the game, but he didn’t take much contact. Rather, it was the threat of contact that seemed to affect him. On his interception, there was a miscommunication in protection that allowed Chubb to get to Garoppolo earlier than expected against left tackle Joe Staley.
”He threw it too early to avoid the hit, and the route hadn’t developed yet, so it didn’t go far enough down the field,” Shanahan said. “We needed to do a better job of protection there by getting everyone all on the same page, and we need to do better by throwing that ball away, or if you can’t, you have to take that sack.”
Garoppolo was frustrated he didn’t get to go back out and make up for his mistakes. He’ll get that chance against Kansas City, in the same stadium where, in Week 3 of last season, he scampered to the sideline to escape pressure and tore the ACL in his left knee. Asked in Denver what he feels going back to that stadium, Garoppolo said he was just happy to get a more extended run and get into a rhythm.
Who comes in after him, though, is a matter of debate.
Asked where he was in terms of determining whether C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens would be Garoppolo’s No. 2, Shanahan said, “I’m in a pretty good spot. Where are you? You want me to tell you?” Faced with a unanimous ‘yes’ from the reporters on his Tuesday teleconference, Shanahan opted not to divulge any decision.
“C.J. played the most, and every time C.J.’s in there, you’ve got the chance for a big play,” Shanahan said. “He loves the big play. He missed one to Richie [James] that was a little him, a little Richie, and then he had a really good one to [Kendrick] Bourne that would have been a real big one that Bourne didn’t get. I thought C.J. missed a couple plays early, but nothing too bad.”
Beathard’s service under Shanahan in the head coach’s first season with the 49ers undoubtedly plays a role in Shanahan’s public-facing view of him, but while Beathard unquestionably has the better deep ball, his numbers across the board don’t compare well with Mullens, who took over after both Garoppolo and Beathard went down last season, and didn’t relinquish the job once Beathard got healthy.
In Beathard’s 10 regular-season starts, the 49ers have averaged 17.4 points per game, and have been held to one touchdown or fewer six times. In eight starts under Mullens, San Francisco averaged 21.1 points, and went 3-5 in 2018. Mullens’ career QB rating is 90.8 (with a 3.6% INT rate), while Beathard’s is 74.6 (with a 3.3% INT rate).
This preseason, too, Mullens’ QB rating has been superior (96.2 to 85.7). Beathard (18-for-28 for 222 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) has gotten more snaps than Mullens (13-of-20, 132 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT), but Mullens has been consistently better, and his command of the offense was noticeable in Denver.
“I know that we’ve got two backup quarterbacks who are both capable of starting,” said Shanahan, who gave the impression that San Francisco will likely carry two quarterbacks, rather than three. “I would be happy with either one as our backup. So, one of those guys is going to win the job. We will make that decision. I do not see myself making that decision until I absolutely have to, and that probably won’t be until the final 53.”
Rookie wide receiver Shawn Poindexter, who went down after a punt on Monday night, is still waiting on X-rays, but the 49ers fear the worst: a torn right ACL. Though that diagnosis had not been confirmed by press time, Shanahan said that when it is, the 49ers will re-sign Chris Thompson, who was signed on Aug. 3 and waived on Aug. 8.
The 49ers hope center Weston Richburg (knee) can practice during Week 4 of the preseason, and play against the Los Angeles Chargers. With the short week this week, the 49ers hope to get him involved in practice next week.
Running back Jerick McKinnon won’t be in team drills during the short week, but he may participate in individual drills. He’s 18 days removed from a platelet-rich-plasma treatment.
Guard Mike Person is day-to-day, and is likely to be practicing in some capacity on Thursday.