By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — During the San Francisco 49ers’ Saturday practice, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo missed his new field-stretching weapon — receiver Marquise Goodwin — twice in wide open situations down field. Both would have resulted in six points.
Sunday was different, though, as Garoppolo found himself staring at another Goodwin fade-route. This time he didn’t miss. A perfect pass, right in the bucket, hit Goodwin directly in the hands for a touchdown.
In the second consecutive padded practice of camp, the 49ers offense made noticeable strides with the vertical passing game. Garoppolo looked polished with his deep passing game for the first time, after struggling with similar throws just one day before, and for good reason.
“We stayed after [practice] yesterday and worked on [deep passes].” said Garoppolo during his post practice media session. “You feel better about it when you hit ‘em but it’s probably one of the hardest things to do in football.”
Garoppolo was right: Throwing the deep ball has been hard, but clearly, the hard work from the post-practice session worked. But what changed for Garoppolo to be able to accurately hit a receiver like Goodwin, with olympic-caliber speed, that far down field?
“It’s different throwing a ‘go’ ball to Marquise [Goodwin] than it is to another receiver,” said Garoppolo. “I’ve never had a receiver like Marquise. You just have to change a couple of things, tweak a couple of things on your drop.”
While the Goodwin connection was encouraging, Garoppolo wasn’t done showing off his progress.
A few plays after his ball to Goodwin, Garoppolo spotted running back Jerick McKinnon a step ahead of covering linebacker Korey Toomer on a wheel route 40 yards down field.
Garoppolo hit his main in stride along the right sideline as McKinnon, too, found himself in the end zone.
McKinnon, who is the favorite to be featured at running back this season, offers a wide variety of options out of the backfield, including going deep.
As a 5-foot-9 back with with great lateral quickness, McKinnon also has 4.41 40-yard-dash speed. Coupled with his ability to catch, McKinnon is just what Garoppolo says he needs.
“Jerick [McKinnon] is a unique talent,” praised Garoppolo. “He can do things out of the backfield, he can line up in the slot and he even had a nice screen run that he broke off for a big run.
“He can do so many different things that its hard for a defense, whether you put on a linebacker, safety or corner, it’s kind of a pick your poison kind of thing.”
Along with finding his range through the air, Garoppolo also turned heads by making his first and second completion to 11-year veteran Pierre Garçon, who missed Saturday’s practice on a veterans’ day off.
Breaking towards the middle of the field on a shallow post, Garçon caught a ball over K’Waun Williams for a short gain. The very next passing play, Garoppolo hit Garçøn on a slant coming from the right side of the field.
Garcon has been viewed as the best fit for Garoppolo’s skill set, so having the two finally get on the same page is promising.
Missing the last eight games of last season due to what he called a “hairline fracture” in his neck, Garçon was unable to play a role in the team’s red-hot finish to last season, which coincided with with Garoppolo’s emergence.
The pair did, however, get to work out together at San Jose State University in the offseason during player-only sessions, which, according to Gaçon, was the first time they were on the field at the same time.
“We were working out at San Jose State getting some plays in, some routes in,” explained Garçon. “I think it was the first time [I caught passes from him]. I had met him before but I can’t tell you where.”
Like the mystery of how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know exactly how the two met, but at least they seem to be on the same page.
The 49ers will have the day off Monday — their first break in four days. With that time, surely Garoppolo and company will take some time to appreciate the budding relationship between their offense and the deep ball.
It could be the key to an affair with a playoff run in 2018.
– Rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis possibly had his best day of camp so far. His unique style of route running looked crisp and he was able to create separation from defenders at will. In 11-on-11s, the 6-foot-1 Washington product took a designed end-around run 40 yards. Pettis caught three passes, unofficially, but did have one drop. Look for him to keep building on a solid first week as camp progresses.
– San Francisco’s defensive line was stellar today in 11-on-11s. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh praised the group after practice saying he thought they looked “very fast.” Jeremiah Attaochu registered the only “sack” of the day on Garoppolo while the starting D-line forced pressure regularly.
– Rookie inside linebacker Fred Warner continued his strong camp by registering another pick in 1-on-1 drills. Warner jumped in front of a pass from Nick Mullens intended for Jeff Wilson and minutes later had a pass breakup in team drills. Saleh said he’s happy with the progress but also says he has a “long way to go.”
– Making the defensive play of the day, rookie defensive back D.J. Reed, Jr. intercepted C.J. Beathard on a pass intended for Pettis on the left sideline. It was one of two turnovers during 11-on-11 drills. The second came from third-year safety Jimmie Ward, who strip-sacked Beathard.