This will be an NFL season like no other. Stadiums around the league will either be entirely or close to empty for games. There have been no preseason matchups, players are dealing with regular COVID-19 testing and have to be careful with what they do in their spare time.
San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan knows it’s not going to be easy dealing with the challenges of playing a full season amidst a pandemic.
“I don’t expect it at all to go smoothly throughout the whole season. Whether there’s COVID or not COVID, so many things happen in an NFL season that it’s always a different team that you end with than that you started with just with the injuries and everything that happens,” Shanahan said. “On top of that, putting in a pretty unprecedented thing that we are going through with the state of this pandemic and everything. I definitely expect things to happen. You’ve got to be ready to adjust to all of that.”
Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is looking to build off his successful 2019 campaign. His pre-game routine of running to the corner of Levi’s to pump up fans won’t happen until spectators are allowed back into the stadium. Garoppolo isn’t letting the changes get to him; instead, he’s focused on what he can control.
“There’s a ton of differences this season and it’s really up to everyone to just adjust to it as best you can on the fly,” Garoppolo said. “I think you can’t put too much thought into it, but you have to realize that it is a different week. We had no preseason, so approach is a little different, but it’s basically the same. Once we get to Week 1, it’s all game prep and getting ready to roll now.”
The Faithful were back in full force during 49ers home games last season. After five years without a postseason appearance, the noise levels at Levi’s were something we hadn’t heard since the Niners played their home games at Candlestick Park. Shanahan reminisced about watching their matchup against the Green Bay Packers in the final home game of the 2019 playoffs.
“I watched the NFC Championship game Sunday. They had it on TV here, and that was really cool to watch that on TV like a fan and to see how crazy our stadium was the last time we were in it and how cool that was, Shanahan said. “I know how it was when we first got here and it wasn’t quite the same and just the hard work and everything that the players put in to give the stadium something that exciting to be about and watching it on TV, it pumped me up. Then you realize, ‘oh man,’ it’s not going to be like that this Sunday.”
Garoppolo knows the players will have to find a way to compensate for not having nearly 70,000 people in the stands.
“Some things are just out of your control, so you’ve just got to make the best of the situation. Obviously, not having the fans out there, not having The Faithful, it’s going to be weird and we’re going to miss those guys,” Garoppolo said. “The energy they bring, it’s unbelievable. It’s invaluable for our team and we’re just going to have to bring that energy ourselves. It’s one of those things, you’ve just got to control what you can control and make the best of it.”
Both Shanahan and Garoppolo know once the season starts, there will be no excuses. The head coach is looking for his quarterback to make the leap into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks this season, similar to how Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan did during his second year in Shanahan’s system.
“You don’t always get to see that with the quarterback, but with Jimmy going through what he went through last year and being able to pull off the year that he did, especially with coming off an injury, he learned a lot and also played at a very high level,” Garoppolo said. “To be able to go through that this year, having very similar players around him, the offense doesn’t change. You just get better at it. I think that’ll definitely help him.”
For his part, Garoppolo isn’t focusing on the highs of last season or the low of the crushing Super Bowl loss. The 28-year-old is 21-5 as a starter in the NFL. He isn’t allowing the fact that San Francisco is one of the favorites get to him.
“No added pressure. It is what it is type of thing. It’s one of those, you don’t want to dwell on last season too much and get caught up in all that good stuff,” Garoppolo said. “You’ve got to make it count the next year. That’s what this league is all about is the consistency. You can do it year in and year out and make the best of your situation. Whenever you get your opportunity, take advantage of it.”