There is no player on the San Francisco 49ers who has more pressure to produce than quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. After making it all the way to the Super Bowl during his first season as a starter, the critics point to his ugly fourth quarter stats against the Kansas City Chiefs in the championship game.
Garoppolo went 3-of-11 for 36 yards and an interception over the final 15 minutes, good for a 2.8 rating during the fourth quarter. Now, with a full offseason under his belt — where he didn’t have to spend any time rehabbing from a knee injury — the 28-year-old faces new challenges going into the 2020 NFL season.
The interior of the offensive line is a question mark. Last year’s starter Weston Richburg will be out for at least the first six weeks while recovering from a severe knee injury. His backup, Ben Garland, hurt his ankle during camp, and head coach Kyle Shanahan doesn’t know when he will return to the lineup.
Daniel Brunskill is filling in at the center spot, while Tom Compton and Colton McKivitz are getting reps at the right guard position. Despite all of the uncertainty surrounding the big boys front up front, Garoppolo is pleased with what he sees heading into the season opener.
“It’s always difficult when you’re mixing and matching like that, but in training camp in the past, we’ve done it before where we were mixing guys in and out, especially up front. Just dealing with injuries, and you never know what’s going to happen throughout the season,” Garoppolo said. “I think it’s good to get into that early and get experience with different centers, especially with just the relationship and all the calls that we have to make together. It’s just, there’s a lot that goes into it, but we’ve handled it well. I thought all those guys, whoever’s rotating at center or guard, even the tackle spots, they’ve done a phenomenal job so far.”
Brunskill had some miscues during practice, especially with getting off clean snaps, while Compton and McKivitz looked overmatched at times against the 49ers’ stacked defensive line. Still, Jimmy G knows he has one of the best-left tackles protecting his blindside in All-Pro Trent Williams.
“He’s been so progressively better and better every day, just with the system and learning all the little things that go into it,” Garoppolo said. “It’s been impressive. And so, you tip your hat to him, and he’s just going to keep being the leader that he’s been this whole training camp for us.”
The changes with the offensive line aren’t the only thing Garoppolo has had to deal with. Receivers Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and Jalen Hurd all missed significant time during training camp. But, the quarterback is getting a weapon back he didn’t have in 2019 with shifty receiver Trent Taylor returning to the field.
“Trent’s been so consistent throughout this whole camp, just the little things that he does, the way he communicates to me, just the pictures that he’s seeing out there, what he’s feeling from the DBs,” Garoppolo said. “It’s been impressive. And so, to have a guy like that, a guy that you know where he’s going to be, you can count on him, it makes my job a lot easier.”
Head coach Kyle Shanahan expects to have Samuel and Aiyuk back on the on the field next week. Samuel has been out since June, but Aiyuk looked very good during the first few weeks on the field. Garoppolo and the rookie were developing an excellent rapport before Aiyuk suffered a hamstring injury.
“B, when he’s out there, he’s ready to play. He’s always ready, always prepared mentally, physically. He’s able to bring an element to the game, it’s unique,” Garoppolo said. “He’s so long, his catch radius, you can put the ball anywhere around him, he’s going to make a play on it. And so, it’s nice having a guy like that. That little comfort blanket, who he’s going to make the tough catches, the contested catches, and make you look good doing it.”
The good news for the Niners is that most of their injured big-name players should be back by Week 1. San Francisco is one of the deepest teams in the league, but to reach the top of the mountain (shoutout to Alex Boone), it will need Garoppolo to silence the critics and take a step in his development as a starting QB.