SANTA CLARA – C.J. Beathard sauntered to the lectern in the 49ers’ press-conference room wearing white socks with no shoes. He was unshaven, his hat on backward.
He looked like someone who overslept on a weekend and was getting ready to be anchored to his couch to watch a day of football.
Instead, Beathard was making his first public appearance as the 49ers’ starting quarterback. Jimmy Garoppolo’s season came to an abrupt end on Sunday in Kansas City with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Beathard played 5 ½ games for the 49ers last season as a rookie. He entered the lineup to replace a struggling Brian Hoyer and he exited when coach Kyle Shanahan determined Garoppolo was ready enough to step in.
Beathard looks and sounds comfortable in his return to a starting role, that’s for sure.
“Just having that experience, having gone out there and played in five NFL games, there’s nothing you can do to simulate those reps in practice,” Beathard said. “The only way you can do it is by going out there and actually getting those game-time reps.
“Just being another year under the system and Kyle’s offense helps a ton, just the knowledge of the offense, getting through progressions quicker and all of that kind of stuff.”
If there was one area in particular that Beathard needs to improve greatly from his time as a starter last season, it’s the speed with which he goes through his progressions in order to avoid sacks and hits.
Last season, Beathard was sacked 19 times for an average of one sack for every 12.8 drop-backs. After Garoppolo took over, the sacks allowed were reduced to once every 14.7 times he dropped back to throw.
The 49ers were 1-4 in Beathard’s five starts last season. The team got off to a franchise-worst 0-9 record before Beathard threw for 288 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-21 win over the New York Giants in Week 10.
In all, Beathard completed 54.9 percent of his passes for 1,430 yards with four touchdowns and six interceptions. He has much higher expectations this time around.
“I think we’ve got a lot better team than we did last year,” Beathard said. “I really like the group that we have and obviously doing what I can do to get the ball out of my hands quicker and making reads quicker. As a whole team, everyone, the O-Line, receivers, running backs, everyone can add their part to help that.”
Beathard has an opportunity to start the 49ers’ final 13 games of the regular season. But to give himself a better chance to remaining on the field, he has to make quicker reads and avoid unnecessary hits. Veteran wide receiver Pierre Garçon said he has witnessed Beathard making improvements in that area.
“That comes with being comfortable,” Garçon said. “When you know what to expect, you know the plays, you know the depth, it comes with comfort and experience, and that’s what he’s got. Over the summertime, that’s what he’s been working on. It comes with time.”
Shanahan said he called on Beathard to play before he had intended last season. Hoyer’s poor play in six starts left Shanahan with no other choice. And, then, watching from the sideline as Garoppolo and the team finished on a five-game win streak was a positive experience, too.
“Going through it the first time and stuff, it’s always slower no matter how hard you work at it,” Shanahan said. “(He) had some ups and downs and then I thought he got to sit back and watch Jimmy and watch someone else try to go through it. I think that helped him going into the offseason.”
Shanahan said he believes Beathard is tough enough to have benefited from being forced to play early in his professional career.
“I was worried because we didn’t have much of a choice,” Shanahan said. “That wasn’t exactly the situation I wanted to put C.J. into. That’s why I think myself and a lot of our team earned a lot of respect for him.
“He never wavered, never saw his confidence change and when he eventually was benched and we put Jimmy in, you would think a guy would be less confident after that. You guys can ask him, but I truly believe he was more confident. Even though he struggled at times, he truly believed he could do it. Those are the kind of guys you want to go to battle with.”
And that might be part of the reason Beathard looked so comfortable on Wednesday when he addressed the media for the first time in 2018 as the starting quarterback.
“Of course he’s more ready because he’s got experience now,” Garçon said. “He’s very experienced, and I’m sure he’s looking forward to it. We all know he’s got way more experience that comes when you play in this league and it comes with time.
“We definitely have a lot of confidence in C.J. He’s familiar with the guys, familiar with the system, so it’s nothing out of the ordinary for him.”