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How Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo are starting from square one—using math problems

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Last year Jimmy Garoppolo was memorizing everything to survive. Now, the quarterback gets to break things down. How is this important? Let’s have some fun with numbers.

The 49ers finished their second day of OTAs on Wednesday and head coach Kyle Shanahan was available to the media afterwards. Obviously one of the questions to come up was Jimmy Garoppolo’s knowledge of the offense and how they are breaking it down. It’s been common knowledge that Shanahan was going to go back to basics with the quarterback to learn from the ground up of the offense. In his own words Shanahan had this to say:

You start over with formations to understand why so that he’s not just memorizing it all every single week. You just know things. You don’t have to sit there and think about it. When you do that, you can just focus on really the tough jobs, which is throwing, going through progressions, playing in that pocket. Everyone knows the crash course that Jimmy got last year and it’s been nice to just slow it down, teach him some of the verbiage and the whys, instead of just, ‘Hey, memorize this by Sunday.’ It’s been nice for him to know why and be able to relax and talk through that stuff. Then, you hope that the more you do that, it’ll carry over to play better.”

When Shanahan says that, I can’t imagine just how hard it was for Jimmy G just memorizing plays for Sunday. The fact he played so well when things went wrong is nothing short of impressive—and there’s not a doubt in my mind things went wrong. Obviously, he’ll still be memorizing things, but not knowing the mechanics of how they work or why just has to make it even tougher.

I’ve seen a few questions in comments and Twitter about this memorization vs “whys.” Why is this so difficult anyways?

I’m going to go with a basic (but good) example involving math. In most of our educations, we started with counting, then addition, subtraction, and so on. Eventually multiplication gets involved. You learn that 2 X 2 = 4 because that is 2 + 2, because you learned how to count to two. See how each concept falls back on a more basic concept?

In this situation, I imagine Garoppolo was stuck just knowing 2 X 2 = 4 and not knowing the addition/counting that leads up to that process. If you don’t know the answer, you have nothing to fall back on to get there. Did you forget what 2 X 3 is? No problem, just add 2+2+2 or 3+3. What if you don’t know that intricacy on the day of your math test? Then you’re in big trouble. You couldn’t memorize the answer, and you can’t dive deep to quickly get one in a pinch. If it’s anything like my school years, you were memorizing times tables anyways as 2nd grade went on, but knowing the ‘how’ and ‘why’ made you understand—and got acclimated much quicker. That’s an NFL offense, very advanced concepts that are grown out of basic concepts—and Garoppolo has to learn it by September.

Through all these math problems you can see just what memorization gets and being able to break down the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the playbook. I doubt there’s any square roots or exponents in Shanahan’s playbook, but I hope this makes a bit more sense of why they are starting from scratch with Jimmy to get him up to speed.