With the exception of one game earlier this season when C.J. Beathard passed him on the depth chart, Nick Mullens has been the 49ers’ backup quarterback since the start of the 2019 season.
Mullens is in line to make his fifth start of the season when the 49ers return to action in Week 12 against the Los Angeles Rams. But there is little doubt coach Kyle Shanahan still considers him the backup.
In fact, Shanahan has said he considers Mullens and Beathard as near-equals as backups behind Jimmy Garoppolo.
“Nick is our guy, but I also try to make it not as big of a deal as it could come off,” Shanahan said this week. “Both of them are our backup quarterback to Jimmy, and both of them we’re capable of winning with.”
Mullens completed 24 of 38 pass attempts for 247 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in the 49ers’ 27-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Shanahan said he considered inserting Beathard into the lineup for a spark.
“If there was ever something that I thought gave us an advantage over one or the other, I wouldn't hesitate to do it,” Shanahan said. “It wouldn't be the biggest deal to me, like even in the New Orleans game. I thought that Nick played very well. There's a time I was like, “Man, maybe we should just put in C.J. just to try to spark something,” to where I wouldn’t consider that normally with Jimmy.
“Jimmy's been our true No. 1 guy, and that's how the team treats him and everything.”
Shanahan said he would not consider it a big deal if he were compelled to go with Beathard over Mullens, if he felt the results would be better with a change at quarterback.
“We can put in either guy, our team will respond the same way,” he said. “Both of those guys are always prepared to go in like they’re the starter, whether they’re the two or the three.”
Garoppolo is out indefinitely with a severe high left ankle sprain. Shanahan said he hopes Garoppolo will be available to return to action later in the season.
Until then, Mullens -- and, possibly, Beathard -- will try to rally the 49ers from their 4-6 record to get the team back into playoff contention.
“Hopefully, Jimmy will be able to come back,” Shanahan said, “but until then, they're both just trying to hold down the fort.”