SANTA CLARA – The man who mostly remained on the sideline for his first 3 ½ NFL seasons understands how Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes benefited as a rookie from being a backup to a respected, hard-working veteran.
Jimmy Garoppolo started two games for the New England Patriots while filling the role as Tom Brady’s backup since 2014. The knowledge he gained from watching and observing appeared to serve him well when he got his chance last season with the 49ers.
Mahomes is off to a scorching start for the 2-0 Chiefs, as he is getting his opportunity to lead his team after Kansas City cleared the way for him to take over with an offseason trade of Alex Smith to Washington.
“I think it’s tremendous for a quarterback to sit his first year,” Garoppolo said. “You get to sit there and see a guy, if you’re lucky, like I got to watch Tom, Patrick got to watch Alex, two successful quarterbacks and how they do it.
“You kind of try to put yourself in that situation, how to learn from it, what you would do if you were in the spot they were in. There’s a ton of things that you could benefit from, and I think if you use it properly, it’s good for you.”
The 49ers will be the opponent on Sunday when Mahomes makes his first career start in front of his home fans at Arrowhead Stadium. In road games at the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh to open the season, Mahomes looked like anything but a newcomer.
Mahomes completed 38 of 55 pass attempts (69.1 percent) for 582 yards with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions in the first two games. His passer rating of 143.3 ranks second in the NFL, behind only Tampa Bay‘s Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Garoppolo said the luxury of being on the inside of a successful organization and watching what it is required to play quarterback at the highest level was a reality that hit him during his first NFL season.
“It kind of hits you at one point or another throughout your rookie year,” Garoppolo said. “It’s a really good learning experience. Some guys it hits early, some guys it might not hit until your second or third year. When you realize you have to be a pro and hold yourself accountable more than having a coach do it for you. I think once you get to that point, it gives you a chance to be successful.”
San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said he has seen it both ways, though. Some young quarterbacks can gain more from getting onto the field immediately. But the sit-and-wait approach has appeared to work with Garoppolo and Mahomes.
“Some guys need to get in there and play whether they succeed or they don’t succeed,” Shanahan said. “They learn from every situation. Some guys need some early success to give them the confidence to lead them to continue to get better.
"So I think you’ve always got to look into the person and think what’s best for them. But, you’ve also got to look at the type of team you have, what your other choice is at quarterback and how good people are around him to where if you do put a guy in, what are his chances of succeeding?”