Nick Mullens' solid four starts proves he's worthy of more opportunities


Nick Mullens' solid four starts proves he's worthy of more opportunities

SANTA CLARA – Quarterback Nick Mullens is showing no signs of going away any time soon.

First impressions carry a lot of weight in the NFL, and Mullens has performed admirably in his first four starts since being elevated into a starting role with the 49ers. And his play through four starts would seem to suggest he has proven capable of more opportunities in the future.

“I try to leave a good impression every time I step on the field, not just by how I play, but how I influence my teammates and the passion that I play with,” Mullens said Wednesday, as he prepares to make his fifth consecutive NFL start.

“So, obviously, I hope it’s a good impression really to myself. I just try to outdo myself every week and that’s kind of what matters.”

Mullens, 23, has completed 64.5 percent of his pass attempts for 1,147 yards with seven touchdowns, five interceptions and a passer rating of 91.5. He entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent and spent his entire rookie season on the 49ers’ practice squad.

The 49ers might not have expected Mullens to play this week, but coach Kyle Shanahan said he knew Mullens would give himself a chance to succeed.

[RELATED: Nick Mullens changed Lynch's thinking]

“I knew it was a possibility because he’s very consistent in everything he does," Shanahan said.

Shanahan said he knew because of the opponents, Mullens would have a chance to have a strong game against the Raiders and the New York Giants. Mullens and the 49ers struggled against Tampa Bay before facing the difficult assignment of going to Seattle.

"I was real impressed last week versus Seattle," Shanahan said. "Mainly, I knew how hard it would be for him, let alone any quarterback not being used to there and just the situation we were in. He got off to a rough start in the first quarter. But I was really impressed how he rebounded after that. I think we all settled down a little bit after that first quarter, and I thought he played three quarters of pretty good football.”

Mullens completed 30 of 48 pass attempts for 414 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the 49ers' 43-16 loss to the Seahawks.

The 49ers play the Denver Broncos on Sunday, and the starting quarterback on the other side has already proven it is possible to take that same route to a long NFL career.

Case Keenum spent his rookie year of 2012 on the practice squad of the Houston Texans. Mullens said he has has done some research on quarterbacks who succeeded without being high draft picks. Keenum is near the top of the list.

“He’s definitely a guy that I’ve looked at his path, see how he’s gone,” Mullens said of Keenum. “He’s a great quarterback. He’s earned everything that he’s gotten in his career and that’s what I respect the most about him. He’s a good player. He’s doing a great job for them right now in their streak and I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”

Keenum earned his most extensive action last season with the Minnesota Vikings. He had 22 touchdown passes and seven interceptions with a passer rating of 98.3. The Vikings went 11-3 in his starts. He signed a two-year, $36 million contract with the Broncos in the offseason. After a slow start, Keenum and the Broncos have rallied with consecutive victories over the Los Angeles Chargers, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Mullens knows he will never be handed anything in his career. And his future with the 49ers beyond this season remains unsettled. Jimmy Garoppolo, the starting quarter, is expected to be ready for organized team activities. The 49ers have also not given up on C.J. Beathard as the backup.

But at a time when Washington remains in the playoff hunt with Mark Sanchez and Josh Johnson on its roster, it is clear there will continue to be a demand for quarterbacks who can pick up a scheme and get an offense to function.

Mullens is expected to challenge for the 49ers’ backup job next year, and could convince the team to keep three quarterbacks on the roster next season.

Regardless, he has played his way into the picture for future NFL jobs.

Will 49ers look to trade backup QBs C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens?

Will 49ers look to trade backup QBs C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens?

One of the major competitions being waged on the 49ers’ practice field is for a spot the club hopes will never be asked to play a significant role this season.

The 49ers’ hopes for the season hinge in large part on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo playing at a high level for 16 games. Behind him, in a too-close-to-call competition are C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens.

Once training camp opens in late-July, the competition for the backup role will heat up. Mullens outplayed Beathard last year, but all that did was create a level playing field for the competition that will ensue this summer.

This week marked the conclusion of the team’s official offseason program. Here are some questions submitted via Facebook:

What's the likelihood we trade one of our backup QBs to a team that loses a QB to injury? ( David Cummings)
The 49ers have three options:
1. Cut C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens.
2. Keep three QBs on their 53-man roster.
3. Trade Beathard or Mullens.

Of those three options, there is no question the 49ers would rather trade one of their reserve quarterbacks.

I’m of the opinion right now that they are fine with either Beathard or Mullens as the backup to Jimmy Garoppolo. If another team feels a need to add a backup, I believe the 49ers would be open to trading either one – whichever player the other team wants more and will attract the better compensation.

Will Robbie be the starting kicker come the start of the regular season? (Richard Burley)
Robbie Gould has not publicly stated his intention, other than he has demanded a trade. (The 49ers said, in essence, “No, thanks. We want you to be our kicker.”)

It is difficult to imagine that Gould would forfeit more than $290,000 per game. The 49ers expect him to be on the field in Week 1 of the regular season. Jonathan Brown was the only kicker to participate in the offseason program. Right now, he’s their insurance policy.

Is there a possibility after the cutdowns start the 49ers will possibly pick up a savvy veteran guard or center considering the uncertainty and shakiness of our interior offensive line? (John Mayfield)
Based on their approach this offseason, the 49ers do not agree with your description of “uncertainty” and “shakiness” as it pertains to the interior of their offensive line.

There’s always a possibility of picking up someone for depth, but the addition of Ben Garland, who can play both guard and center, likely took care of that.

From what you've seen Matt, which WR has impressed you and the coaching staff the most? (Paul Martinez)
The 49ers’ top-two receivers during the offseason program were Dante Pettis and Trent Taylor. If Taylor remains healthy, he should benefit greatly from the tutelage of new receivers coach Wes Welker.

Considering the size of the front seven on defense are there concerns about our potential to defend against the run with the new Wide 9 scheme? (R.L. Stephens)
That is precisely why the 49ers’ defense now has three smaller, quicker stack linebackers. The Wide 9 is designed for the defensive ends to set the edge quicker to force running backs to cut inside earlier.

It also puts far more pressure on the linebackers to step up and cover more ground to prevent big plays on those plays.

Who is a name that might be a surprise cut before the 53-man roster is made? (Michael Tavares)
If I write the name here, he won’t be a surprise cut, right?

I’ll give you three players to watch. At first, I thought Marquise Goodwin might have a difficult time making the team. But he looked really good during the offseason program, and he does give the 49ers they don’t have anywhere else with his speed.

Veteran linebacker Malcolm Smith will have to earn his way. Elijah Lee and Dre Greenlaw look good, and they have special-teams value, too. Tight end Garrett Celek will be trying to come back from back surgery. I think he faces some pretty big odds at this stage of his career to remain on the team.

[RELATED: Kyle Shanahan believes 49ers can overcome injuries this season]

Who are the starting safeties at the beginning of the season? (Nick Gillo)
Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt. (Insert the obligatory, “If healthy.”)

With Shanahan talking about having great depth, predict the biggest 2020 offseason needs. (Jeff Bratton)
I predict the biggest needs for next season will be determined by what happens this season.

49ers linebacker Fred Warner looks to improve after solid rookie year

49ers linebacker Fred Warner looks to improve after solid rookie year

SANTA CLARA — Linebacker Fred Warner had a lot put on his plate as a rookie. Going into his second season as a pro, he's leaning on a wild first year.

“I’m expecting [my game] to grow a lot,” Warner said. “Having that experience from Year 1, obviously playing a lot of snaps, I think all parts of my game can improve. 

“Specifically I’m looking forward to working on tracking the ball, making sure that I’m improving on tackling, just communication, having clean eyes, and being able to anticipate things a lot quicker.”  

Warner explained that while he had a lot of responsibilities, he never felt like it was too much for him to handle. He added that linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans increased his workload as his experience grew. 

“I think they knew that they could rely on me, they never gave me too much,” Warner said. “DeMeco was always checking in with me to make sure that I wasn’t too overwhelmed and whatever they told me to do, I did it.

“They gave me more and more as I got more confident throughout the season, so leading into that last game against the Rams, we had a lot of stuff going on, but that’s when I was the most confident, in the last game of the year.” 

Warner’s experience is helping him look at last season’s game film with a new set of eyes, figuratively. He already sees ways he could have improved his performance. 

“No doubt,” Warner said. “I’m watching film right now and I’m looking at different things and I’m like, ‘Dang I would have called that’ or ‘I wish I was out there so we could do this,’ but I feel our defense is doing a great job right now. 

“Guys who maybe have not gotten as many reps are stepping up during this OTAs doing an outstanding job and I’m looking forward to getting back out there with them.” 

The defense has gotten notably faster after several key additions during the offseason and Warner believes it gives the group “swagger.”

“I think every year that we get more of that chemistry together as a group, I feel like that’s where it comes out, our confidence,” Warner said. “The more we can play with that, the more we can instill fear into our opponents on game day. They should be able to turn on the film and be like 'Oh, man. We got the Niners this week.’

“I think that with coach Kocurek, they are being taught to come off the ball hard and fast so they are going to create a lot of penetration which should create a lot of edges and so it’s our job to make them right, as linebackers. We are behind the ball for a reason so we can see everything and play off of them.” 

[RELATED: Jason Verrett feeling confident about his return]

Warner, like many players sitting out of team drills during OTAs and minicamp, is itching to get back on the field. But he knows that being patient is what’s best for him in the long run. 

“A lot of that you don’t have much control over,” Warner said. “You just have to listen to what the trainers tell you, and that’s what I’ve been doing. They have a plan for me and I’m just going to follow that, but yeah, just taking one day at a time.”