If we think of the San Francisco 49ers as a train going down the tracks of the offseason right now, it’s moving slowly… preparing… and planning its journey towards Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is the driver of this train and with cues from the coaches on the sidelines, there is optimism he will steer the team towards the NFC West Division Championship and beyond.
But, before San Francisco traded for him last October, quarterback C.J. Beathard was at the helm, having taken over for Brian Hoyer during the Week 6 game in Washington.
Combined, Beathard and Hoyer led the team to a depressing 1-10 record and the offense was statistically at the bottom in the league on third downs, completion percentage, time of possession, points scored and yards per game.
That all changed when Garoppolo took over Week 13 in Chicago. The team went undefeated when he was under center and the offense turned itself around in several key areas with his help even against three playoff-bound teams.
As for Garoppolo’s performance, he completed 67.4% of his passes for 7 touchdowns and 5 interceptions and he led the league in passer completion percentage while under pressure.
In contrast, Beathard went 1-4 in five starts, completed only 54.9% of his passes and had 4 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. The team also seemed to lack a spark in direction with him that Garoppolo provided late in the season.
So, it’s fair to say that much of San Francisco’s success will rely massively on Garoppolo’s performance and leadership during his first trip as a full-time starting quarterback in 2018.
But… what if he falters and sustains a serious injury?
No 49ers fan wants to even think about that. The reality is very real, however.
We must face the fact that Beathard could wind up with his hands back on the controls again, if Garoppolo goes down unexpectedly.
If that happens, what could we expect from Beathard entering his second year? And, what kind of direction will this 49ers train take under the 24-year old’s command?
Certainly, in Coach Shanahan’s eyes, Beathard was showing signs of improvement “each and every week”, which was the original plan.
When the 49ers traded up for the Iowa grad in the third round of the 2017 draft, he wasn’t seen as the quarterback for the future, but rather someone who seemed a good fit for the Shanahan system and had potential to be developed.
So, at the point when Garoppolo showed up, it is likely that Beathard was where he was supposed to be: as a rookie quarterback with average skills in a complicated scheme.
Helping Beathard out is the fact that the 49ers as a whole should be a better team than it was last year. Several injuries to key players overwhelmed San Francisco in 2017, but the health of the team is much improved going into the new season, and the roster has been reinforced as well.
Weighing all that together, along with the idea that more experience will reap its rewards eventually, it is foreseeable that Beathard will indeed improve in the future.
Another factor that lends some confidence in believing Beathard could boost his performance is using what happened to Carson Wentz and the Eagles last year as an example of the possibilities.
Late in the third quarter of Philadelphia’s Week 14 game versus the Rams, Eagles MVP candidate quarterback Wentz suffered a season-ending ACL tear. With only a couple of short weeks away until the playoffs, the season seemed lost. But, backup Nick Foles unexpectedly led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl win and became the game’s MVP.
No one saw that coming, of course. Foles was considered a solid backup but average at best before the playoffs. How he managed to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders towards the finish line and play unbelievably well is still a mystery.
It just shows us what athletes are capable of even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Is Beathard up to this kind of challenge? It’s too early to tell. Heck, it may never become obvious.
Yet, if Garoppolo somehow brings this 49ers train to the playoffs and gets hurt, Beathard has got to get better and take advantage of the improved players within the organization.
In the end, the timing of a Garoppolo injury would be the most indicative factor of Beathard having success taking over this team. If it were to happen earlier in the season, we should expect to see a more favorable outcome especially if Garoppolo could manage to come back. If later in the season… That would be a huge hill for the Beathard train to climb.
Yes, Garoppolo has many expectations on his shoulders during the new season. It could be argued that C.J. Beathard does, too.
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