The San Francisco 49ers have a critical decision to make on Thursday as they prepare for their primetime matchup against the Oakland Raiders. Quarterback C.J. Beathard is listed as questionable for the Week 9 matchup due to wrist and thumb injuries suffered last week against the Arizona Cardinals. If he cannot play Thursday night, Nick Mullens would get the start in his place.
Beathard suffered the injury in the second quarter and was able to finish out the game. On Tuesday, head coach Kyle Shanahan said Beathard was struggling to grip the football. On Wednesday morning, Shanahan was on KNBR and he said if the 49ers had to play that day, Beathard would not be able to go.
Mullens has been getting all the reps in practice this week, although it is worth noting that all three practices were walkthroughs. The team normally has at least one and often two full practices, but the short week does not give them time to do that. The players need all the time they can get for their bodies to fully recover from having played a game on Sunday and having to turn around and play another game four days later.
The 49ers will announce their inactives at approximately 3:50 p.m. PT, which means we should know what the plan is at that point. If Beathard’s wrist and thumb are still an issue, I suspect he will be inactive and Tom Savage will be active. If Beathard’s hand is better, but they’re not comfortable with him starting on the short week, then maybe Mullens starts and Beathard serves as the backup. I actually think Beathard ends up starting this game, but we’ll find out for sure later this afternoon.
If Mullens does have to go, Shanahan is comfortable with his knowledge of the offense.
“Nick’s been here for a year-and-a-half, he’s extremely bright, he works at it as hard as anyone. As far as getting in there, spitting out the calls, knowing everything, knowing what to do, he’s right there with C.J. and Jimmy. He doesn’t have the experience of doing it. He doesn’t have all the reps of doing it. He doesn’t get nearly what those guys have gotten, but just from a mental standpoint and knowing what to do, we won’t skip a beat in that way. The hard thing is just on these two days that you have to prepare, you can’t do any full speed reps because the guys just aren’t recovered. So, he’s their mentally, but the first time he’ll be throwing full speed to all these guys, if he plays, will be the first play of the game.”
Mullens spent his first season with the 49ers on the practice squad, and opened this year on the practice squad before Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL. In his first season, he made an extensive appearance in the final preseason game, completing 7 of 10 passes for 58 yards and one interception. This season, he got appearances in all four preseason games, completing 31 of 43 passes for 396 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. His best performance was in Week 1, completing 11 of 13 passes for 141 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Earlier this week, Shanahan was asked what drew him to Mullens initially. He talked about what they liked during his college career, and credited quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello with finding Mullens prior to the 2017 NFL Draft.
“Just studying him on college. Our personnel department and [quarterbacks coach] Rich [Scangarello] brought him to us because they found, Scangarello, our quarterbacks coach, watched a lot of film on him. Got to play a ton, played at a high level. He was very consistent in what he did. Played in more of a spread offense, but you could see how hard he would compete when running the ball and things like that, even though that wasn’t his number one strength. But, also can play in the pocket when they asked him to. I remember one thing that we liked, I forget whether it was the East-West game or another one of those all-star games, I remember Rich telling me he interviewed him and asked him how he got ready for that game and he had to look up on YouTube how to do drops and stuff under center because he was always in gun throughout college. That’s the type of guy he was. He’s going to figure it out. He’s going to work all day to figure it out on his own, with the help of coaches and stuff, he takes that as well as anyone.”
I think Beathard ends up playing tonight, but at some point this season, I have to think we see Mullens get an opportunity. In an otherwise lost season, roster assessment is critical. And figuring out what they might have in Mullens seems useful.