49ers minicamp notes: Kaepernick sees action


49ers minicamp notes: Kaepernick sees action

Editor's note: The above video is from May 18. 

SANTA CLARA -- Quarterback Colin Kaepernick saw more participation in 49ers practice on Tuesday than even his coach foreshadowed.

Just minutes prior to practice, 49ers coach Chip Kelly said Kaepernick would take part in individual drills but would be held out of 7-on-7 and team sessions.

But Kaepernick, in fact, did take practice snaps during the 49ers’ 7-on-7 drills on the first day of the 49ers’ mandatory three-day minicamp. The only periods in which he did not participate were the full 11-on-11 drills.

Second-year player DeAndrew White caught three passes from Kaepernick, who appeared sharp as he spread the ball around to 11 different targets.

“It’s cool to see Kap out there healthy, first and foremost,” 49ers receiver Torrey Smith said. “He’s working. He’s been out here the entire time. He’s continued to work hard the entire time, kind of staying in the background.

“I’m pretty sure he’ll say that he’s rusty and wants to continue to work, but it’s just cool to see him out there. . . He completed some passes. I don’t think you can ever complain about that. He made a few tough throws into some tight windows. I wouldn’t say it was a bad first day, at all.”

Kaepernick underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder on Nov. 24. Shortly after the season, he also underwent surgeries on his right thumb and left knee.

He is expected to compete with Blaine Gabbert for the starting job when training camp opens in late-July.

Here are other observations from the first day of minicamp:

--First-round draft pick Joshua Garnett lined up at both guard positions as he reported to the team’s offseason program on Tuesday. He was eligible to practice with the team after turning in his final paper in a religion course at Stanford.

What did Garnett do during the time he was required to stay away?

“A lot of school, lifting, studying, field work, just trying to stay on top of everything on our iPads," Garnett said. "I’d get the playbook and the (video of the) practices, and I could watch them on my own . . . and try to stay on top of everything to shorten the gap from when I was gone.”

--Cornerback Dontae Johnson, who appeared to sustain an ankle or leg injury during the final workout of last week, did not practice. The injury does not appear to be serious, as Johnson watched practice from the sideline.

--Gabbert got off to a strong start in a team period devoted to run and play-action pass. Gabbert hit Smith for a deep touchdown.

“Today was a good day for the offense,” Gabbert said. “We’re kind of seeing how everything is meshing, going together, different tempos with different styles of play and the guys did a good job today.”

--The 49ers switched up their offensive line from time to time, with Joe Staley getting some breaks at left tackle. Erik Pears played some of the left side, and Trent Brown same some action with the first team at right tackle.

When asked about Brown’s conditioning, 49ers offensive line coach Pat Flaherty said, “It’s improved. He’s improved. He’s working. The biggest thing with most players, Trent included, is consistency. You can’t be one of those people who go out and workout one day and the next day, you don’t.”

Flaherty was asked if Brown’s conditioning is fine.

“No, he’s not fine," Flaherty said. "But as you get a chance to know me, I don’t think anybody is ever fine. I’m always going to look at the glass as half-full, don’t get me wrong. I believe we’re going to be the best in the league. But I think there’s room for improvement, even in Joe (Staley).

“And Joe’s working his tail off. He will be better than what he played last year. He will be just because of the way he works. And that’s what Trent has to develop. And young players, that doesn’t sink if real quick to those guys. They don’t get it. It takes a while.”

--Undrafted rookie receiver Bryce Treggs had a good showing, including catching a deep pass from Gabbert during a 7-on-7 session against the coverage of cornerback Keith Reaser. Treggs also looked sure-handed while fielding Bradley Pinion punts, along with Bruce Ellington and DeAndrew White.

--Cornerback Kenneth Acker wrestled a Kaepernick pass away from Jerome Simpson for an interception. Jimmie Ward and Tramaine Brock also made plays to break up passes intended for Dres Anderson and Bruce Ellington, respectively.

--Outside pass rushers Eli Harold, Demetrius Cherry and Tank Carradine got penetration during team drills for either would-be sacks or pass deflections at the line of scrimmage.

NFL analyst could see 49ers replacing Jimmy Garoppolo with Kirk Cousins


NFL analyst could see 49ers replacing Jimmy Garoppolo with Kirk Cousins

Last season didn't go as planned for the Minnesota Vikings or the San Francisco 49ers, albeit for different reasons.

After signing quarterback Kirk Cousins in the offseason, the Vikings stumbled to an 8-7-1 record, missing the playoffs a year after going to the NFC Championship Game. Cousins, despite tossing 30 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions, underperformed the massive contract he was given and was a clear scapegoat for the Vikings' disappointing year. 

As for the 49ers, after Jimmy Garoppolo went down in Week 3 with a torn ACL, the wind was taken out of their sails and they limped to a 4-12 finish. 

Both the 49ers and Vikings have high hopes for 2019, but if things go awry for both squads, one NFL analyst could see Kyle Shanahan swapping Jimmy Garoppolo for Kirk Cousins.

Yes, you read that correctly.

On Pro Football Talk Live, Mike Florio floated the idea of Shanahan -- who was Cousins' offensive coordinator for two seasons with the Redskins -- electing to move on from Jimmy G if his 2019 is subpar and grab Cousins should the Vikings cut bait with the veteran QB. Chris Simms, who knows Shanahan well, doesn't think it's as impossible as it sounds.

"I don't think it's crazy, Mike," Simms said. "You know, this thought or this theory, I don't think it's crazy. 

"I do think we are getting to the end of the territory or the end of the shelf life of this Minnesota football team. What you're saying if things didn't work out this year and they went 7-9, 6-10, 8-8 and miss the playoffs -- do they abandon ship, restart and retool their team? And yes, if the 49ers underperform, you know, could I see them going after a Kirk Cousins? Certainly. I really could see it happening."

Slow your roll, Chris.

After acquiring Garoppolo from the New England Patriots in 2017, Jimmy G went 5-0  as a starter and was rewarded with a massive five-year, $137 million contract. But should things go bad in 2019, the 49ers would only face a $4.2 million cap hit if they chose to move on from the star quarterback.

[RELATED: Breaking down Beathard vs. Mullens as 49ers' backup QB]

It would be a shock to see the 49ers part with Garoppolo in favor of an aging and overrated Cousins, but stranger things have happened. 

Examining 49ers' backup QB competition of C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens

Examining 49ers' backup QB competition of C.J. Beathard, Nick Mullens

The most talked-about competition on the 49ers is also for a job coach Kyle Shanahan hopes is the most superfluous position on the team during the 2019 regular season.

Reserve quarterbacks C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens are competing for the job to suit up on game days and serve as Jimmy Garoppolo’s insurance policy.

“You really hope Jimmy stays healthy so it’s irrelevant who’s the No. 2 guy,” Shanahan said before the 49ers broke off last week at the conclusion of the offseason program.

“These guys have both proven that they can play in this league and we’re going to have to make a tough decision at the end of preseason to which one we want to give that No. 2 job to.”

At the beginning of the past two seasons, there was never a question that Beathard would serve as the team’s backup quarterback -- behind Brian Hoyer in 2017, then Garoppolo last season.

But things are different this summer after Mullens became one of the bright spots of a thoroughly disappointing 49ers season. He played well during his eight-start stint to close out the season.

Mullens compiled a respectable 90.9 passer rating while putting up big numbers after taking over for Beathard for the 49ers’ Week 9 game against the Raiders. Mullens averaged 285 yards passing per game, ranking him fourth all-time through eight games behind Patrick Mahomes, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton.

Yet, Mullens earned nothing other than the right to compete with Beathard for the backup job. And Shanahan seems to be pleased with both players, based on what he witnessed during the nine-week offseason program.

“C.J.’s had a real good camp,” Shanahan said. “He’s been playing real well. So has Nick. So I’ve been excited about both of them.”

Beathard was a third-round draft pick in 2017. The 49ers signed Mullens immediately following that same draft as an undrafted rookie. Mullens was among the final cuts before the starts of the ’17 and ’18 seasons. After he cleared waivers, Mullens immediately signed back to the 49ers’ practice squad.

Mullens was promoted to the 49ers’ 53-man roster last season after Garoppolo sustained a season-ending knee injury in Week 3.

First-year quarterbacks coach Shane Day has outlined some areas of improvement for both players. Shanahan said the true competition for the backup job will begin in training camp, but there’s little he does not already know about both men.

“I know both of them so well, because we’ve been here two years with them and we’ve gotten a chance now to see both of them in practice and both of them in games,” Shanahan said.

“They’ve both been doing a real good job, both playing at a high level, so that’s been exciting. But to sit there and really stress over, from a coaching standpoint, trying to make the decision, we’re not there yet because a lot could change.”

Here is a closer look at the decision that Shanahan could face – assuming one of the players is not dealt in a trade -- when the final cuts must be made by Aug. 31 at 1 p.m.

C.J. Beathard

PROS: The 49ers selected Beathard in the third round, which provides a strong indication that he had the physical tools necessary to make all the throws in Shanahan’s offense. But that investment was also two years ago. So, now, the decision is less on potential and more on what the player has done.

Still, Shanahan’s offense is predicated on taking advantage of the weaknesses in the defense. If the play call and defense sets up a deep shot, Shanahan wants to see it thrown deep. Beathard can make the deep throws and has the arm strength to carry the ball outside the numbers.

[RELATED: C.J. Beathard enjoys backup QB competition]

Beathard has shown his toughness through his 10 NFL starts. (That’s also not necessarily a positive, as we’ll explain later.) He has played well at times. He has also struggled. With a better supporting cast, Beathard’s production would also be expected to elevate. Beathard also says the competition has made both players better.

CONS: While Beathard’s toughness can be seen as one of his better qualities, you never want your quarterback taking hits that can be avoided. Beathard must make quicker decisions to get the ball out of his hands and not absorb nearly as many hits he has taken through the course of his first two seasons.

Beathard got pounded way too many times (one sack for every 10.4 dropbacks). Those hits started to have an obvious impact on him, too. He got banged up while making his five starts last season and he began to look shell-shocked.

Physically, he needed a break at the time Mullens took over. But he also appeared to need a mental break, too. In 10 starts over his first two seasons, Beathard threw 13 interceptions with 12 TD passes.

Beathard must improve his pocket awareness. It’s easy to stand in the pocket during offseason drills and training camp in order to make the throws. The big test for Beathard will be to process information and get rid of the ball when he’s going up against an enemy pass rush.

Nick Mullens

PROS: Mullens is a gamer. He has been underestimated his entire career, and he continues to prove himself at every level he’s played.

Mullens took his preparation to peculiar levels even when he was on the practice squad. He practiced called plays in the huddle while cranking up crowd noise in his headphones. Mullens knows the offense very well. He also never showed any signs of getting rattled – other than his annoyance with Shanahan, who continued to talk in his ear after delivering the play call.

Mullens’ arm strength (more on that later) is questionable, but he can make up for some of his limitations with his timing -- his knowledge of the offense, reading the defense and anticipating his throws.

CONS: Despite some very good statistics, including an 8.3-yard average per attempt, Mullens did not grade well with some Pro Football Focus metrics.

His 64.2 completion percentage topped Beathard (60.4) and Garoppolo (59.6), but Mullens ranked near the bottom of the league in completion percentage in small windows as well as passes of 20-or-more yards down the field. The takeaway from PFF is that Mullens thrived because Shanahan was able to scheme receivers to be open.

Where his arm tends to be a problem is that defenders tend to get their hands on Mullens’ passes. In college, he threw 46 interceptions in 44 games. Last season, he was intercepted 10 times in eight starts with 13 TD passes.