49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo enthusiastic for first start vs. Seahawks

49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo enthusiastic for first start vs. Seahawks

SANTA CLARA -- With 67 seconds remaining in a late-November game, Jimmy Garoppolo entered for his 49ers debut for the final three plays of another loss.

Garoppolo was on the field at the end of a 24-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at Levi's Stadium in 2017, ending on an encouraging note with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy.

“It seems like a lifetime ago,” Garoppolo said. “It’s a great group year-in and year-out. They’re always one of the top teams, and it’ll be a great challenge for us. It’ll be a good atmosphere for us on Monday night.”

Nearly two years later, Garoppolo will make his first career start against the Seahawks in what is likely the 49ers’ biggest game since Levi’s Stadium opened for the 2014 season. The 49ers are 8-0, while the Seahawks (7-2) can close the gap in the race for the NFC West.

“It’ll be fun,” Garoppolo said. “It’ll be a good atmosphere. Levi’s was rocking last time when we played Carolina, and I wouldn’t expect anything less for Monday night. The Faithful will be loud.”

There have been a lot of moving pieces for the 49ers’ offense through eight games, as the club remains the NFL’s only unbeaten team.

Offensive tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, as well as fullback Kyle Juszczyk, have missed significant time with injuries. Staley and Juszczyk are expected to return to action on Monday night, and the team is optimistic about McGlinchey’s availability, too.

“It’s always good to get guys back from injury,” Garoppolo said. “I thought those guys who stepped up in their places played phenomenal. It’s football, you never know who’s going to get hurt or whatever. The mixing and matching, I think we did a great job of it while we were in this situation.”

There could be more mixing and matching on the way for the 49ers, too.

Tight end George Kittle was sidelined late in the 49ers’ Week 9 game against Arizona with knee and ankle issues. Kittle did not practice Thursday, and his availability is in question for Monday night.

The 49ers have also had some flux at wide receiver, where they have gotten inconsistent play across the board. The team did not have a go-to wide receiver until veteran Emmanuel Sanders was quickly assimilated into the offense after being acquired in a Week 8 trade from Denver.

In two games, Sanders has 11 receptions for 137 yards and two touchdowns.

“He’s a savvy guy, he feels space in the defense, he’ll cut his route short if he needs to, he’ll take it a little deeper if he has to,” Garoppolo said. “As a quarterback, I love that. Just guys that feel the same thing that I’m seeing and it’s nice having that.”

Through it all, Garoppolo has provided leadership and key third-down completions. Through eight games, Garoppolo completed 70.8 percent of his pass attempts and has a 100.7 passer rating. He has been sacked only 12 times.

“I think having a better understanding of the offense and everything, having an extra year just makes me more comfortable with that stuff,” Garoppolo said.

This is not the same Seahawks defense of the past. Seattle’s pass defense ranks 28th in the NFL, allowing 278.1 yards per game. Only nine of the team’s 15 sacks have come from the defensive line, so the Seahawks are relying more on blitzes.

[RELATED: Carroll misses facing, beating ex-49ers coach Harbaugh]

Still, Garoppolo expects the Seahawks of the past to show up on Monday.

“They start with coverage,” Garoppolo said. “The blitz has shown up more this year and everything, but they’re always a coverage-first team, it seems like. It’s similar to what they’ve done in the past. They’ve had a couple change ups this year with new personnel and everything, but same old, same old.”

49ers' Kendrick Bourne, NFL stars not fans of league's escrow proposal

49ers' Kendrick Bourne, NFL stars not fans of league's escrow proposal

With each passing day, the concerns over the coronavirus grow.

For the sports world, that means uncertainty. Will the games be played as scheduled? Will there be fans in the stands? What will revenue look like?

On Tuesday, the NFL reportedly made a financial proposal to the Players Association, and it didn't sit well with the latter group.

NFL Media's Tom Pelissero reported, citing sources, that the NFLPA told its board of representatives that the league is proposing to put 35 percent of players' 2020 salary into an escrow account.

Pelissero relayed a response from an NFLPA executive Don Davis.

As you can imagine, the idea of not getting their full salaries didn't sit well with the players, including 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne.

Raiders right tackle Trent Brown weighed in.

Several other NFL stars, including newly minted $503 million-man Patrick Mahomes, shared the same reaction.

The NFL reportedly wants to cut the preseason from four games to two games, and the NFLPA later voted that no preseason games be played.

It's clear the two sides have a lot to work out before training camps open later this month.

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

49ers' George Kittle voted top NFL tight end over Chiefs' Travis Kelce

49ers' George Kittle voted top NFL tight end over Chiefs' Travis Kelce

Who's the best tight end in the NFL?

While many feel strongly on the subject, there really are only two acceptable answers. You can bicker back and forth as to who is superior between 49ers tight end George Kittle and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, but they're clearly in a tier unto themselves.

If you're partial to the intricacies of route-running, Kelce might be your choice. If you like a bruiser who contributes in all aspects of the offense, Kittle surely is your guy.

If there is a separation between the two, it's by hairs. Don't take my word for it. More than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players recently voted on the top 10 players at 11 different positions for the upcoming 2020 season, and the top two tight ends were separated by the slimmest margin of any position group.

To the delight of 49ers fans, and the ire of those of the Chiefs, Kittle came out on top. Just barely.

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

After the first round of votes, ESPN's Jeremey Fowler reported Kittle and Kelce sat at a dead-even split. Additional voting and follow-up calls were required, which ultimately tilted the result in Kittle's favor.

Just like Kelce, Kittle was ranked as high as No. 1 at the position, but no lower than No. 3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski was the only other player to receive a first-place vote, but last I checked it's 2020 and not 2015.

"Consecutive 1,000-yard seasons make Kittle a top contender, but his blocking and intensity helped earn him nearly half the first-place votes," Fowler wrote. "Where Kittle beats everyone is at the line of scrimmage and with the ball in his hands, as he forced a league-high 20 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus."

The voters were full of compliments for Kelce, but Kittle's mentality, leadership and scheme flexibility proved to be the tie-breakers.

"Be on the field, and see how he elevates the play of everyone in the offense. It's tangible," one NFC coordinator said. "He lifts everyone up."

"The passion on tape is unmatched," an AFC executive explained. "He's got that dog in him. More competitive than Kelce."

"Unreal passion, energy, toughness, blocking," said another executive.

[RELATED: Mahomes contract could put pressure on 49ers signing Kittle]

Kittle might have won the vote, but last time he and Kelce were on the same field, the Chiefs tight end got the better of him, both in the box score and in the Lombardi Trophy department. Of course, if Kittle isn't called for that questionable-at-best offensive pass interference penalty, it might be a completely different story.

In any case, there's no shame in Kelce being ranked below Kittle, nor would there be if it was the other way around. They're both extremely special players, and it's not a coincidence that their teams arguably are the two best in the NFL.