SANTA CLARA — As a bit of a weekend ritual over the last few months, 49ers quarterbacks C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens — along with teammates Wilton Speight and Max McCaffery — have been packing up their clubs and hitting the golf course between OTA and minicamp practices.
The time on the green has served as an outlet, presenting the group with a chance to get away from the rigors of the NFL offseason.
“It’s a weekly tradition I guess you can say,” Mullens said after practice on Wednesday. “It’s always a good time and we’re always having fun. Competition is fun.”
Their time on the links isn’t the only competition that Beathard and Mullens have been a part of lately. With starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo back in the fold, but still coming off of knee surgery, the pair are jockeying for position in the race for backup quarterback, a race already heating with still month before training camp.
“Those boys are acting like they’re competing for the first job,” 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin said. “That’s the mindset you’ve got to have when you’re out here.”
Last season, after Garoppolo went down with a torn ACL in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs, both Mullens — then an undrafted second-year player out of Southern Miss — and Beathard — the 49ers third-round pick in 2017 — were placed at the forefront of San Francisco’s offense as they attempted to salvage what they could out of a seemingly lost year.
Beathard, who played in a total of seven games in 2017 (five of which were starts), was the first to step in. Beathard completed 60.4% of his passes and threw for 1,252 yards, but he also took a severe beating, getting sacked 18 times.
The result of the physical punishment was a wrist injury that kept him from suiting up against the Raiders in Week 9. That injury, though, opened the door for Mullens, who started the rest of the season. In eight games, Mullens passed for 2,277 yards, ranking him as the fourth-most productive quarterback in NFL history over his first eight starts.
“I think that experience is valuable,” Mullens said. “People say you feel comfortable in year two. Year one, you’re trying to figure things out, year two you know the offense and year three, now I have experience.”
While Garoppolo, whose left knee is still in a brace, has been limited in OTAs and minicamp, unable to feel the pressure of a live pass rush, Mullens and Beathard have split reps behind him.
On Tuesday, it was Beathard who shined with a pair of deep passes to rookie wide receiver Malik Henry in 11-on-11s and then a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to former Eagles receiver Jordan Matthews in red zone scenario drills.
“From what I saw out there, I thought he did a good job,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said following the practice. “C.J.’s had a real good camp. He’s been playing real well.”
On Wednesday, it was Mullens’ turn. He hit a 30-yard touch-pass to San Francisco fullback Kyle Juszczyk, floating a perfect ball over the hands of linebacker LaRoy Reynolds to set up a four-yard touchdown run from Emmanuel Mosely one play later.
“I think the biggest thing is just playing decisive football,” Mullens said. “How quick can you make your decisions, how quick can you skip a read to get to the next read? It’s one thing that helps me play my best. I think throughout camp I’ve been trying to be quick in my decisions and I think that’s helped.”
In fighting against each other for the role of backup QB, assuming that Garoppolo doesn’t experience any setbacks in his rehab, only natural for some competitive juices and a little animosity to brew. Not for Mullens and Beathard.
Along with the friendly rounds of golf, where the two often team up together to take down Speight (confirmed to be the best golfer of the bunch), Beathard and Mullens spend a lot of their time outside of practice together.
“We pretty much hang out every night. In the hotel, we’re just a couple of rooms down the hall [from each other],” Beathard said. “We’re really close off of the field.”
This friendship that they’ve been able to build in the first two years of their careers has also allowed for each to appreciate the moment and use each other as motivation.
“That’s what competition is,” Mullens said. “You work every day, you do your best and you let the chips fall where they may. Me and C.J. are both playing at a pretty high level and so it’s a lot of fun just getting better every day.”