49ers camp report: C.J. Beathard injury opens door for QB Nick Mullens

49ers camp report: C.J. Beathard injury opens door for QB Nick Mullens

SANTA CLARA – 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens got his opportunity last season after C.J. Beathard got banged up and could not make a start on a short week.

Beathard is back on the injured list, opening the door for Mullens to build a lead in the competition for the 49ers’ backup job behind Jimmy Garoppolo.

Beathard did not practice on Tuesday, as the 49ers returned to the field after two days off following the team’s preseason opener on Saturday night against the Dallas Cowboys. Beathard sustained a thumb injury when he hit his hand on a helmet on his final pass attempt of the game.

Last season, Mullens took full advantage of his opportunity when Beathard was sidelined after five up-and-down starts. Mullens played well down the stretch of the season, giving 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan no reason to take him out of the lineup.

Mullens ended up starting the final eight games of the season. He averaged 285 yards passing per game, ranking him fourth all-time through eight games behind Patrick Mahomes, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton.

On Tuesday, Mullens completed six of his nine pass attempts, including two throws to rookie Jalen Hurd, who had another good day.

Mullens and Beathard remain in competition for the backup job. If Beathard is available to play Monday night in the 49ers' second preseason game, he is scheduled to enter the game second, behind Garoppolo.

Offensive play of the day

The 49ers have been waiting for second-year wide receiver Dante Pettis to show more consistency on the practice field. Pettis caught only one pass in 11-on-11 drills on Tuesday, but it went for 30-plus yards when he found himself wide open down the right sideline to catch a pass from Garoppolo.

Cornerback Richard Sherman was trailing the play, which appeared to be a blown coverage in the 49ers’ defensive backfield.

Defensive play of the day

Veteran Malcolm Smith and rookie Dre Greenlaw are in a battle for the starting job at outside linebacker. Smith, who has been plagued by injuries since signing with the 49ers, returned to practice after missing some time with a hamstring strain.

Smith made the top play of the day when he diagnosed a shovel pass from Garoppolo to Tevin Coleman and was there to make the stop behind the line of scrimmage.

Injury report

Tight end George Kittle is experiencing tightness in his calf and did not practice. Kittle is not expected to miss much time.

Rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel was excused for personal reasons, the team announced.

Nose tackle D.J. Jones (knee) and tight end Levine Toilolo (undisclosed) did not practice after seeing extended action on Saturday night.

Defensive end Arik Armstead (calf), linebacker Malcolm Smith (hamstring) and running back Jeff Wilson (calf) returned to practice.

Safety Jimmie Ward was back on the practice field without pads, wearing a blue jersey to signify no contact. He is returning to work after sustaining a fractured collarbone in June.

This ‘n’ that

--Rookie Wilton Speight, the No. 4 quarterback, got his first 11-on-11 snaps of the summer in practice. He completed all three of his attempts. . .

--Left tackle Joe Staley had a devastating blindside block on cornerback Dontae Johnson on a run play. Staley immediately went to Johnson and apologized for the hit that sent Johnson crashing to the ground. . .

--Ben Garland lined up at center with the first-team offense, with Mike Person playing right guard. Reserve guard Joshua Garnett remains out of action after undergoing surgery to repair a dislocated finger on the first weekend of camp. . .

--Emmanuel Moseley lined up at nickel back with the first-team defense with K’Waun Williams and Jason Verrett out through the end of the preseason with injuries. . . .

--Veteran wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who is competing for a roster spot, dropped an easy pass at waist level from Mullens near the goal line on a play from the 22-yard line. . . .

[RELATED: Shanahan not blown away by 49ers rookie receivers’ debuts]

--Garoppolo and Matt Breida hooked up for a 10-yard touchcown against the coverage of Kwon Alexander. . .

--Defensive linemen Solomon Thomas, Kentavius Street, Jullian Taylor, Jamell Garcia-Williams and Jordan Thompson registered pressures. . .

--Linebacker Fred Warner scooped up a fumble against Tevin Coleman on one of the first running plays of the day. . .

Next up

The 49ers are scheduled to practice Wednesday at 10 a.m. before traveling to Denver on Wednesday afternoon. The club will have a day off on Thursday before practices Friday and Saturday against the Broncos.

Why Stephen A. Smith is wrong about George Kittle and Travis Kelce

Why Stephen A. Smith is wrong about George Kittle and Travis Kelce

When it comes to identifying the best tight end in the NFL, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith is definitely in the minority.

The consensus of more than 50 league executives, coaches and scouts is that 49ers tight end George Kittle is the best player in the league at his position.

Kittle's own peers recently ranked him as not only the best tight end in the NFL, but the No. 7 overall player in the league.

Pro Football Focus didn't simply grade Kittle as the NFL's top tight end last season; he was their highest-graded player overall at any position.

And yet, Smith vehemently -- and incorrectly -- believes Travis Kelce, not Kittle, is the best tight end in the league (via 49ers Web Zone.)

"He has had about four or five (it's four) consecutive 1,000-plus-yard seasons," Smith said of the Kansas City Chiefs tight end Wednesday on "First Take." "He's good for at least 85 receptions a season. I think last year he had about 97 for 1,200 (yards) and change. Travis Kelce's the real deal as far as I'm concerned.

"When you look at Kittle's blocking ... definitely deserves a lot of credit in that regard, but outside of that, I don't see anything that he's bringing to the table that Travis Kelce can't bring or hasn't brought over the last several years, and there's something to say about your resume. I think Travis Kelce is that dude. I think he's the best tight end in football."

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Kelce is a phenomenal player, to be sure. The 49ers witnessed it firsthand in Super Bowl LIV. But despite Smith going on to tout him as a "model of consistency" in arguing his superiority over Kittle, the question wasn't who has been the best tight end over the last several years. It was who's the best right now, and there's a reason why the vast majority of people in the know have given Kittle as their answer.

While Kelce probably has an advantage in terms of route-running, you can't point to many other aspects of the position that Kittle isn't superior at. And to gloss over Kittle's run-blocking as Smith did entirely ignores a huge aspect of a tight end's responsibilities.

Smith's co-host Max Kellerman set him straight.

"You're wrong," Kellerman responded. "Travis Kelce is great -- no disrespect to Travis Kelce who looked like for a minute he took over from (Rob Gronkowski) -- but now Kittle has got it. By the way, Kittle averages more catches, more yards and more yards per catch than Kelce -- that's just the catching. And if you want to say you'll take Kelce in that department, I get it. Kittle's specialness, even there, as much as he can catch it is the way he runs it, the way he refuses to go down, which is inspirational to watch."

"Kelce is a great tight end," Kellerman added, "but I don't think there's really a debate right now. The No. 1 guy in the business is Kittle."

[RELATED: Sources: Kittle, 49ers making 'healthier progress' on deal]

Booger McFarland -- the tiebreaker -- called it like it is.

"Listen, I'm not concerned about six straight years, we're talking about right now," McFarland said. "I'm not concerned about the past five, six years. Nobody cares what you did 10 years ago. What are you doing for me right now? And right now, today, George Kittle is the best tight end. He's the best tight end in football."

Why Jimmie Ward's mindset is key to 49ers avoiding Super Bowl hangover

Why Jimmie Ward's mindset is key to 49ers avoiding Super Bowl hangover

Jimmie Ward didn’t watch Super Bowl LIV game film for a month, maybe two. Metaphorical wounds were too fresh, too painful to tolerate a replay of how the 49ers blew a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead to the Kansas City Chiefs in granular detail.

Time turned lacerations to scars and tempered raw emotion enough for the 49ers free safety to look at the game as a teaching tool. Ward didn’t just scan it once. He watched it again and again, maybe 20 times in total.

Viewing it critically dulled the heartache but not the motivation. Count Ward among those driven by dreams of a return engagement, hellbent reaching the Super Bowl again and winning the damn thing.

He has, however, put it in proper perspective. Ward knows the 49ers can’t win the Super Bowl in August. Can’t win it on Feb. 7, 2021 either, without doing what’s required every day prior.

“I hear a lot of my teammates say they want to get back to that spot and win it,” Ward said during a Tuesday video conference. “That’s what everybody wants to do, to get to the Super Bowl and win it. My approach is more about taking it one day at a time, one game at a time. I have been in that position, so I have seen what it takes to get to the Super Bowl, but you can’t look past the first game of this season.

"I can’t look past tomorrow’s practice. I just have to do everything the right way.”

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

That one-day-at-a-time cliché is easy to say, extremely hard to do for a team that was mere minutes from a championship and let it slip away. It’s human to dream about righting a wrong right away.

Spend all your time looking toward the horizon and you’ll trip over a rock at your feet. That happens to runners-up so often that there’s a term for it.

The dreaded Super Bowl hangover.

It can impact teams that win a title, but it plagues teams that walk away empty handed. Every team that loses a championship game wants to win the next one.

History says that is hard.

Only three teams have won the Super Bowl after losing it the year before. The Dallas Cowboys did it in the 1971 season, the Miami Dolphins won every game and a title in the 1972 campaign, and the New England Patriots rebounded well and won it all after the 2018 season.

That’s a short list, considering how many have trieds. Minnesota, Denver and New England have returned to the title game and lost again. We all remember the early 1990s Bills, who made four straight Super Bowls and lost every single one.

The 49ers certainly are capable of going on a redemption tour. They have all the talent and coaching required to win a stacked NFC West, go on a deep playoff run and end up playing in Tampa for Super Bowl LV.

Anything less, it seems, would be a disappointment. Realizing lofty expectations can’t happen if players are still living in the past. They can’t make dreams reality by skipping steps. That’s why Ward’s philosophy must pervade through the 49ers locker room.

Safety Jaquiski Tartt’s take on the topic suggests that it has.

“Everybody has that same mindset,” Tartt said. “Making it all the way there and not winning leaves that sick feeling in you. We want to get back to that stage and win it all.”

[RELATED: Steve Young believes 49ers must prove lasting power]

Exorcising a demon doesn’t happen in a day. It takes discipline over hundreds of them, and emotion over a missed opportunity can’t fuel you forever. The 49ers have to embrace the grind to realize expectations and do what few teams have done, getting back to the Super Bowl and winning it.

“I just feel like you have to get over it,” Ward said, “and think about how you can get better heading into Game 1.”