Matt Maiocco

49ers' backup QB competition likely won't be decided until final cut

49ers' backup QB competition likely won't be decided until final cut

The 49ers have not kept three quarterbacks on their initial 53-man roster since coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch arrived in 2017.

And Shanahan seemed to imply the club will keep two at the beginning of this season, too. C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens are competing for the backup role behind starter Jimmy Garoppolo.

“I know we have two backup quarterbacks who are both capable of starting and I would be happy with either one as our backup,” Shanahan said after the team returned to the Bay Area from its 24-15 preseason victory over the Denver Broncos on Monday night.

“One of those guys is going to win the job, and we will make that decision. I do not see myself making that decision until I absolutely have to, and that probably won’t be until the final 53.”

If the 49ers were to keep three quarterbacks on their roster, a decision on the backup would not have to be made until 90 minutes before the regular-season opener on Sunday, Sept. 8, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when seven inactive players must be announced.

Shanahan said he is in “a pretty good spot,” as far as determining the backup. But he said he has yet to determine who will follow Garoppolo in the preseason game Saturday night at Kansas City. Then, he said, the other quarterback likely will see the bulk of the playing time in the final exhibition game, Thursday, Aug. 24, against the Los Angeles Chargers.

“I feel very good with both the guys,” Shanahan said. “We’ve had both of the guys here in a lot of game situations. But it’s been a fun battle to watch. I think both of them are playing better than they have the last two years.”

Based on how both quarterbacks have performed in regular-season games, Mullens is the favorite. Last season, he averaged 284.6 yards passing – fourth-most in NFL history through eight games – with 13 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 90.0 passer rating.

Beathard averaged 250.4 yards passing with eight touchdowns, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 81.8. Beathard also was sacked with more frequency than Mullens.

[RELATED: Why it's obvious Jimmy G has significant hurdles to clear]

But Shanahan designs his offense around the big play, and that is where Beathard could have the advantage because of his willingness to sit in the pocket and let downfield routes develop.

“Every time C.J.’s in there you’ve got a chance for a big play,” Shanahan said. “He loves the big play.”

Beathard had two opportunities for big plays Monday night. He overthrew Richie James on a deep corner route to the right side, then Kendrick Bourne failed to hold onto a deep ball down the left side.

“I thought C.J. missed a couple plays early, but nothing too bad,” Shanahan said. “Then Nick came in and didn’t have many opportunities, but made the best (of them).”

Mullens and Bourne teamed up for a well-timed and delivered 1-yard touchdown on a fade route against tight coverage.

Why it's obvious 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo has significant hurdles to clear

Why it's obvious 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo has significant hurdles to clear

Jimmy Garoppolo has a mental barrier to overcome to be the kind of quarterback he and the 49ers -- not to mention the team’s fan base -- expect him to become.

It is only natural that a player, any player, returning from a significant injury must deal with overcoming the mental side of the challenge. That occurs when he no longer thinks about the injury or can just react naturally and instinctively.

In the case of Garoppolo, it’s his front leg while throwing passes. He sustained a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in his left knee in Week 3 of last season at Kansas City.

That knee, which has been fitted with a bulky yet lightweight brace, is closest to the oncoming pass rush.

Garoppolo has always used a vast repertoire of pass styles -- sometimes flat-footed with different arm angles. But it seemed to be more pronounced on Monday. He did not appear to be stepping into his throws while going 1-for-6 with an interception and zero yards passing against the Denver Broncos in his preseason debut.

Coach Kyle Shanahan speaking on a conference call with Bay Area reporters on Tuesday, expressed no concern about the mostly futile 11-play sequence for Garoppolo and the 49ers’ first-team offense.

“You always want to play better, but to get concerned over 10 plays, that’s pretty irresponsible,” Shanahan said.

Garoppolo, likewise, did not admit to any concern after the game. He said he was already looking forward to getting back on the field, where he is expected to have a longer outing in the upcoming Week 3 of the preseason.

"It's something that I haven’t done in a year, obviously, so I’ve got to knock the rust off and everything,” Garoppolo said afterward. “Thankfully, we have a short week this week, so we can bounce back quickly. But it's the first step of getting back into it."

The 49ers’ next game, Saturday night at Kansas City, should provide yet another update on Garoppolo’s comeback.

By and large, Garoppolo’s return has been uneventful -- even “flawless,” in the words of general manager John Lynch. Of course, Monday was also the first time in 11 months he faced a defense that was not instructed to keep its distance.

But even in those practices against his teammates, Garoppolo seemed to struggle and come up short on passes in which he did not throw from a clean pocket. That was particular apparent on Friday in a practice against the Broncos when Garoppolo threw an interception when Von Miller was on the ground, in the vicinity of his left leg.

After the game on Monday, Garoppolo said he did not consider his knee to be any kind of issue.

"Honestly, I really wasn’t thinking about it out there, so I'm happy about that,” Garoppolo said. “Just in general, it didn’t bother me that much."

It’s quite possible Garoppolo did not consciously realize he was wary of the very natural inclination to protect himself.

Perhaps, the game Monday served its purpose. Perhaps, Garoppolo has cleared the mental hurdle of returning to action against an enemy defense that wants to hit him and hit him hard.

[RELATED: Boston radio trolls Jimmy G after horrid preseason outing]

The next barrier to clear is when he absorbs his first big hit.

“I think those will just come naturally,” Garoppolo said. “It's football, and you know what you sign up for and everything, so I think there's value here in wanting that. I think I’ll build that in due time.”

49ers fear rookie wide receiver Shawn Poindexter sustained ACL injury

49ers fear rookie wide receiver Shawn Poindexter sustained ACL injury

The 49ers are fearing a diagnosis of a torn ACL for rookie wide receiver Shawn Poindexter, coach Kyle Shanahan said on Tuesday.

Poindexter, an undrafted player from Arizona, sustained the knee injury on a special-teams play in the second half of Monday night's preseason win over Denver. He was scheduled to undergo an MRI examination to confirm the extent of the injury.

Poindexter (6-foot-5, 213 pounds) played just one snap of offense and four plays of special teams on Monday. In the opener, he caught two passes for 12 yards against the Dallas Cowboys. Poindexter appeared to be a prime candidate to land a spot on the 49ers’ practice squad this season.

The club is prepared to re-sign wide receiver Chris Thompson to take Poindexter’s spot on the roster, Shanahan said.

In other injury news, neither running back Jerrick McKinnon nor defensive end Dee Ford is expected to return to practice this week on a short week before the 49ers face the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday. Both players underwent recent platelet-rich plasma treatments for their knees. McKinnon has been slow to return from a torn ACL of nearly a year ago, while Ford experienced tendinitis in his knee early in training camp.

[RELATED: Jimmy G knows he has to 'be better' as season approaches]

The 49ers are hopeful center Weston Richburg to will be able to practice next week and possibly play in the team’s final preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Richburg had extensive surgery on his knee and quad in the offseason after playing most of last season with the injuries.