After the week's first practice, as the Niners prepare for their final preseason game against the Raiders, Kyle Shanahan faced the media. He answered a wide variety of questions, regarding the health of several players, like Trent Williams, Dee Ford, and Nick Bosa, whether or not he ever met the late Raiders owner Al Davis, and, obviously, the state of San Francisco’s quarterback hierarchy.
The head coach provided one of his patently vague replies to that last line of inquiry, only confirming he’s got “a pretty good idea” who’ll be the starter come the regular season. But, it should be noted; as he spoke, a wry smile crept across his face.
Later, Jimmy Garoppolo took the podium and had Shanahan’s words echoed back to him, which he echoed in return, like a game of sports media telephone. This response intentionally doesn’t give much insight when you read it in black-and-white, but, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. So allow me to direct you to go to the video below.
Jimmy G also has a "pretty good idea" about who's starting at QB Week 1 pic.twitter.com/YqlDLIIwtU— 49ers on NBCS (@NBCS49ers) August 25, 2021
There’s nothing wry about that smile. That’s the look of a man who’s absolutely feeling himself right now and knows something we don’t. By all accounts, Garoppolo has looked better this spring and training camp than he ever has in his time with the team.
Utilizing a full, healthy offseason that featured your front office trading a bundle of draft choices to select an athletic challenger to your job will put a fire in anyone’s belly, and it appears to have translated to Garoppolo’s performance in practice.
Jimmy’s apparent belief in himself and Kyle’s belief in Jimmy’s ability to run his offense broke through the facade of their boilerplate responses. When Garoppolo elaborated about the meaning of Shanahan’s comments, his looseness and swagger shone through.
“It’s whatever he [Shanahan] decides, yeah. I have a pretty good idea. I’m pretty happy with where I’m at right now and everything and just the offense as a whole. Yeah, Kyle’s the head man. He’ll make the call.”
No matter where you land on the Jimmy G/Trey Lance debate, you have to admit that having a confident quarterback who’s consistently won games when healthy, in pole position to start the season with a physically gifted wunderkind lying in wait is a net positive for the 49ers. Too much talent at any one roster spot cannot be a bad thing.
Even though we may not want to admit it, it seems that sometimes the most obvious solution is just the solution. Sure, over the course of training camp, Shanahan has flirted more and more with Trey Lance getting first-string snaps, even making certain to give him an opportunity against the Chargers starters. Yes, those actions have meaning, but just not as much as people outside the team want.
Truthfully, has the messaging ever changed? The course was set pre-draft when Kyle and John Lynch were adamant that Garoppolo was aware and a part of this plan after trading up. Would they offer guarantees about job security or who’d be alive by Monday? No, but they never deviated from the original concept of bringing in a rookie to compete and learn, not be handed a starting role.
After selecting Lance, who couldn’t legally drink and had played only one meaningful football game in the past year, Shanahan continued to say it was Jimmy’s job, explaining that it’d be tough for any rookie to replace a vet so quickly, especially one so raw.
As camp progressed, and Trey got those limited first-team reps, and the Internet was set aflutter, we heard more of the same. Then, finally, Kyle admitted that Trey would be used in special packages, which we all had long suspected as a possibility. Yet he laid out, again and again, there’s no open competition, and it’d be shocking for anyone but Jimmy to start Week 1.
In light of today’s responses, I think it’s time to accept there are no more tea leaves to read. Shanahan’s intentions are and have been clear under all those snarky, slippery sound bites. His mind is made up, and, frankly, it was probably never swayed in the slightest.
Jimmy will start. Trey will play. There never was a competition.