49ers Mailbag: Could QBs Nick Mullens or C.J. Beathard be trade bait?

49ers Mailbag: Could QBs Nick Mullens or C.J. Beathard be trade bait?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There is one major storyline going into the 49ers’ third preseason game of the summer: Jimmy Garoppolo.

Coming off a rough return five nights earlier, Garoppolo will attempt to prove to everyone, including himself, that he’s ready for the regular-season opener on Sept. 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But Garoppolo is not the only question surrounding the team entering Week 3 of the preseason on Saturday night against the Kansas City Chiefs. Our friends on Facebook supplied some additional questions about the state of the 49ers:

Who will win the backup quarterback position? Isn’t there more upside with Mullens? (Michael Monico)
It is closer than you might think, but I'm going with the crowd at this point and believe it is going to be Nick Mullens. The reason it’s not a certainty is because, actually, there is more upside with C.J. Beathard.

“Every time C.J.’s in there you’ve got a chance for a big play,” coach Kyle Shanahan said this week. “He loves the big play.”

There’s someone else who loves the big play. That’s Shanahan.

He designs his offense to stress the defense into yielding opportunities for the big play. And when the quarterback goes anywhere other than deep with those shots, it drives him to frustration.

That’s why for most of the offseason I thought Beathard would win the No. 2 job. But I’ve changed my mind. I think Mullens looks very good -- calm, confident and decisive.

What are the chances Mullens or Beathard gets traded as opposed to being released? Do you see any other potential trade candidates? (Greg Threlkeld)
Keep an eye on the Broncos injury situation behind Joe Flacco. Perhaps there could be a fit there, with offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, who served as the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach the past two seasons.

With so many question marks elsewhere on the roster, as far as the uncertainty of which players will be available for Week 1, I think it will be very difficult for the 49ers to justify keeping three QBs on their 53-man roster. They would love to trade one of them, but I just don’t know what kind of market there will be for a team to bring in a backup quarterback just prior to the start of the regular season.

Who will win the starting WR spots? (Tee Mikey Perez)
This answer is going to be a complete cop out. I do not envision them having traditional starting receivers. Their receiving corps is so balanced that I can see each of their receivers having specific roles in a game plan. So the play call could determine which receivers start on a weekly basis.

As well as Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd have looked as rookies, they are still rookies trying to function in this offense. Dante Pettis was the viewed as a virtual lock to be a starter when camp began, and after an uneven start, he appears to be coming on.

Marquise Goodwin, Jordan Matthews and Kendrick Bourne have all started in the past, but they are now scrapping for playing time (or roster spots).

What receivers do you see making the team (Armando Guerra)
Trent Taylor is not expected to be ready for Week 1 after undergoing surgery two weeks ago to repair a Jones fracture of his right foot. He could be a candidate for short-term injured reserve, but he still has to be carried on the initial cut to 53 players in order to be eligible to return this season. (The 49ers have said they believe he will be ready early in the season.)

I can see the 49ers keeping seven receivers to open the season in the event that Taylor can’t practice or play for a couple of weeks. But who? This is where it gets tricky.

Samuel, Hurd and Pettis, for sure. Taylor looked to be on pace to be the team’s top receiver before his injury. That leaves Goodwin, Matthews, Bourne and Richie James.

Goodwin should make it. Then there’s a decision between Matthews and Bourne. That’s difficult. Matthews does not have special-teams value, but he is more consistent than Bourne. I’d still lean toward Bourne because of his youth and his room to grow. But Shanahan made it sound this week as if Matthews had done everything he wanted to see to win a roster spot.

James could draw some attention on the trade market. Otherwise, it would be difficult for him to earn playing time with the abundance of receivers who can play in the slot.

Are the 49ers reluctant to play younger players in your opinion? I think Deebo Samuel has performed well enough to steal some snaps from Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin. Do you agree? (Joseph B Ryder)
Generally, coaches take some time to come around with younger players because they want guys on the field who know exactly what they’re supposed to do. Typically, it takes rookies a lot of time to know their assignments. Rookie wide receivers have a difficult task because of all they things they must process on any given route.

If a wide receiver hesitates, reads the defense incorrectly or chooses the incorrect option, the results are disastrous. That’s why it takes more time with that position group. But, yes, I agree that Samuel (and Hurd) will take some snaps that would ordinarily go toward Pettis and Goodwin.

Are the 49ers considering keeping four backs for now? How ready will McKinnon be for the start of the season? (Rick Orozco)
When they make their cut to 53 players, the 49ers can be expected to keep running backs Jerick McKinnon, Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert, as well as fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Even if the plan is for McKinnon to go on short-term injured reserve, he must first have a spot on the 53-man roster before such a move is made.

There still is no indication if (or when) McKinnon will be ready. He and the 49ers should know more once he returns to practice and see how his surgically repaired knee responds.

Will Ward be ready to start in week 1 as FS? Moore has made a name for himself in TC and preseason. (Faisal Refai)
Jimmie Ward is expected to play Saturday night in Kansas City. If he holds up, Ward probably still is the favorite to start because of his command of the defense.

But ... Tarvarius Moore has made tremendous strides since defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said during the first week of camp that he was a long way from being ready to start in the NFL. Moore will be a starter for the 49ers at some stage. The only question is will it be Week 1 or at some point down the road.

Do you think they will try to acquire another guard or center through a trade or scour the final cuts for one? (Brian Taylor)
It looks to me as if the 49ers’ top seven offensive linemen are: left tackle Joe Staley, left guard Laken Tomlinson, center Weston Richburg, right guard Mike Person, right tackle Mike McGlinchey, backup interior lineman Ben Garland and backup tackle Sam Young. Richburg is expected to begin practicing next week, and he could see some action in the preseason finale against the Chargers.

Joshua Garnett is a wild card. He really needed to have a good training camp to show what he can do. But, again, he missed all of camp with an injury. He should be back on the field in Kansas City. Keep an eye on him. Najee Toran, Daniel Brunskill and Justin Skule are also competing for backup jobs.

The problem is there are very few answers out there. Offensive line play is a problem for every team, so I just don’t foresee many solutions shaking free from the rosters around the league.

[RELATED: Shanahan explains controversial coach’s 49ers role]

Will the ones play a lot in the 3rd game? (Chris Lynn Overstreet)
Yes, the starters on both sides of the ball are expected to play the equivalent of one half of football -- somewhere in the range of 30 to 35 snaps. That includes the quarterback.

Is this a make or break year for Shanahan? (Steven Downs)

Sure, the 49ers are 10-22 under Shanahan, but he and John Lynch signed six-year contracts for a reason. This was known to be a tough rebuilding project. CEO Jed York has not wavered in his support for the coach and general manager, so something dramatic would have to occur for that to change.

49ers' pass rush returns to 'fun' style of play vs. Drew Brees, Saints

49ers' pass rush returns to 'fun' style of play vs. Drew Brees, Saints

NEW ORLEANS – The 49ers’ pass rush can once again be a factor this week.

The 49ers went into their Week 13 game against the Baltimore Ravens knowing they had to make some dramatic changes with their style of getting after the quarterback.

After all, they could not be so aggressive, as 49ers defensive line coach Kris Kocurek teaches, because of the running ability of Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

On Sunday, they can get back to normal against the passing attack of the New Orleans Saints with quarterback Drew Brees.

“Those guys want to get after the quarterback,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “I know the D-line. I know their coach. It was a tough week for them. But they rose to the challenge and played those techniques very well. I thought they did a very good job against Baltimore and stopping the run.

“And now this week, you still got to stop the run. It always starts with that, but you can play a little more of those techniques you’re used to, which I know they have a lot more fun playing and I know we have a lot more fun coaching it, too.”

It certainly will not be easy for the 49ers’ pass rush to get to Brees, who has been sacked just nine times on 249 drop-backs this season. Brees gets the ball out quickly, in order to neutralize the 49ers’ pass rush of Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford.

A week ago, the 49ers played a different style in an attempt to prevent big plays from Baltimore’s quarterback-driven run game. Buckner registered the team’s only sack, and that came for zero yards.

The 49ers gave up some rushing yards, but made adjustments in the second half to limit Baltimore to just three points in the final 30 minutes.

[RELATED: How will 49ers deploy running backs?]

“When you do that, you definitely have to change-up your fronts and play run-first at all times,” Shanahan said. “You got to almost play in a four-point stance and just control people instead of teeing off on guys and trying to go through them. I know last week was a frustrating week.”

The 49ers own the league's top-ranked passing defense, allowing just 134.2 yards passing per game. The 49ers rank second in the NFL with 45 sacks.

49ers Mailbag: How will Kyle Shanahan deploy running backs vs. Saints?

49ers Mailbag: How will Kyle Shanahan deploy running backs vs. Saints?

NEW ORLEANS – It’s a good problem for the 49ers to figure out who among their running backs they are going to feature.

Leading rusher Matt Breida is scheduled to return to action on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints after missing three games with an ankle sprain. Raheem Mostert is coming off a 146-yard day, the best game from a 49ers running back in three years. But what kind of role will he play on Sunday?

That question leads off this edition of the 49ers Mailbag:

Coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff put a lot of discussion into how they are going to use their backs. Shanahan talks to his entire offensive staff, as well as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, about which plays are best fits for which players.

Then, Shanahan’s in-game decisions are also influenced by which running back is having the most success.

“None of them are bad at anything, so whatever we end up going with, all of them have a chance, whatever play it is,” Shanahan said on 49ers Game Plan, which airs Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBC Bay Area and 9 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.

“We definitely try to decide which one we prefer during the week. We go into the game with a plan, but then we always stick with what’s hot.”

Tevin Coleman has been getting the starting assignments. It remains to be seen if that will continue, but Breida and Mostert should get their opportunities, too. 

I don’t know about using Daniel Brunskill for any trick plays, but it might not be a bad idea to mix him in for a series here and there to ease Joe Staley back into the action.

Staley has missed nine games this season, and Brunskill has shown to be a very effective player. It could be something along the lines of how the 49ers got Ahkello Witherspoon back into his starting role. At first, they had Witherspoon and Emmanuel Moseley sharing the playing time before Witherspoon was all the way back.

Richard Sherman will play despite hobbled last week with a knee injury. He appeared to be moving well during 49ers practices this week in Florida.

The only 49ers starter who will not play on Sunday is strong safety Jaquiski Tartt, who may miss multiple games with fractured ribs. Marcell Harris will start at strong safety. But everybody else is good to go, including Breida, Staley and Dee Ford.

My hunch is that if the 49ers do not place the franchise tag on Arik Armstead, he will end up signing a lucrative multi-year contract with another team as an unrestricted free agent. The 49ers' top priorities to sign to multi-year extensions are defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and tight end George Kittle.

[RELATED: Kittle on pace for best PFF season]

Neither Jalen Hurd nor Trent Taylor will play this season. Hurd will miss his entire rookie season due to a stress reaction in his back, while Taylor is out for the season from complications after undergoing surgery on a Jones fracture in his right foot.

The 49ers elevated defensive lineman Kentavius Street to practice this week. The 49ers might use their final injured reserve/designated to return spot on cornerback Jason Verrett, who has been out with a knee injury. He could return to practice as early as Wednesday.

The odds are very slim that Marquise Goodwin will be back on the team next season. He is scheduled to make $4.5 million in salary and bonuses in 2020, and that is not a price the 49ers are going to pay for what he gives them.

The 49ers are not giving up on Dante Pettis, though. They want him to put in the work during the offseason to have a big bounce-back season.

Pettis experienced the same kind of second season as Ahkello Witherspoon. Both players experienced success to ends their rookie seasons and thought they had it figured out.

[RELATED: How to watch 49ers-Saints]

Witherspoon struggled in Year 2, and realized what he had to do in order to perform at a high level. He came back focused for a strong third season.

The 49ers hope Pettis will make the same kinds of adjustments to his work ethic and mindset to become a reliable receiver in 2020.