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Shanahan explains why Mullens is back as 49ers' backup QB

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Nick Mullens’ time as the 49ers’ third-string quarterback did not last long.

After being inactive on the sideline for just one game, Mullens returned to the role as No. 2 behind Jimmy Garoppolo for the 49ers’ Week 6 game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night.

Coach Kyle Shanahan said this week he considers Mullens and C.J. Beathard as equals.

He said there might be times this season when he favors one over the other, depending on the defense the 49ers are set to face that particular week.

“I think we can win with both of them,” Shanahan said. “I think some weeks, one might give you a little bit more of an advantage than the other. But that's almost splitting hairs.”

Shanahan said one of the disadvantages of all NFL preseason games being canceled this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic is that he could not evaluate the reserve quarterbacks in live situations.

“I wish they could have had a little more preseason games so I could just give them better feedback on why I'm going with which one,” Shanahan said. “But it's so close that I really just decide on who we're going against and which guy I think gives us the best chance."

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Shanahan said he wants to avoid the situation where Mullens and Beathard feel as if they are competing against each other during practices to be active for games on any given week.

After all, the main job of any non-starting quarterback is to run the opposition’s offense to give the 49ers’ defense the best possible preparation for the game. The backup quarterbacks are also relied upon to assist and support the starter.

Mullens and Beathard came to the 49ers in 2017. Beathard was ahead of Mullens on the team’s depth chart through the middle of the 2018 season. That’s when Mullens stepped in and played well.

Mullens was the No. 2 all of last season while Garoppolo played every meaningful snap.

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Mullens threw for 343 yards in a 36-9 win over the New York Giants on Sept. 27 while Garoppolo was out with a high ankle sprain. But Mullens was benched the following week in the fourth quarter of the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Beathard supplanted Mullens behind Garoppolo in Week 5 against Miami. Beathard played the second half when Garoppolo was removed from the game.

This season, Mullens has completed 69.9 percent of his attempts (51 of 73) for 614 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Beathard has completed 62.2 percent (23 of 37) for 232 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.