The Curious Case of Joshua Garnett
“I am Jack’s broken heart.”
-Narrator, “Fight Club”
I was wrong about Joshua Garnett.
No, friends, that's an understatement, and I need to be honest with my readers.
I was famously wrong about Joshua Garnett.
You see, a few years ago, I was casually watching a Stanford game and saw Garnett dominate the interior of the line of scrimmage.
“Now that's how you play guard," I shouted at the plasma screen. "So long, Jordan Devey, Marcus Martin, Erik Pears, Brandon Thomas and Andrew Tiller. Garnett staying in the Bay Area and is going to shore up the 49ers' offensive line for years to come."
Garnett won the Outland Trophy as the best offensive lineman in college football in 2015. He also won the Morris Trophy as the best offensive lineman in the PAC-12 and was a consensus All-American. Somehow, he accomplished these achievements while majoring in human biology.
Much to my surprise, the 49ers did draft Garnett in 2016. In fact, then-general manager Trent Baalke made an un-Baalke move and traded back into the first round to select Garnett 28th overall.
There was no doubt Garnett was going to succeed in the NFL. He had the tools, the talent, and the mind to play professional football.
During his rookie season, Garnett played in 15 games and made 11 starts. None of his play was memorable, which isn’t a death sentence for green offensive linemen.
Actually, Garnett's play was memorable; he was one of the worst guards in the NFL.
Pro Football Focus gave Garnett a 42.4 grade in 2016, ranking him third from the bottom, while his pass blocking grade was 40.4, placing him dead last in all of football.
Despite having little to build on, the 49ers brought on new coaches and a new attitude during the 2017 offseason. I was hopeful the new energy would provide a boost to the team, including Garnett.
Unfortunately, Garnett hurt his knee at the start of the 2017 training camp and underwent arthroscopic surgery had during the first part of August. There was a small sliver of hope he’d return after a few weeks, but he never played a down last year.
Fast forward to the 2018 offseason. Early news stories reported that Garnett had dropped about 25 pounds, cleaned up his diet and was ready to play football.
“Fantastic,” I thought. “Everyone learns, grows and becomes better. Maybe Garnett was able to wrap his head around professional football while on IR.”
On July 26, 2018, the 49ers held their first practice of the season. After two-and-a-half practices, Garnett hurt his knee again when he banged it against a defensive lineman.
Garnett hasn’t participated in practice since July 28. As of writing, he’s not expected to practice this week or play in the first preseason game on August 9.
Bad Luck or Missed Opportunity?
Success in sports can be a wild concoction of luck, skill, hard work, and opportunity. Wally Pipp’s ghost is forever damned with a severe headache, while Lou Gehrig would probably achieve baseball sainthood if such an honor were possible.
For three seasons, Garnett has had an opportunity to make a name for himself and secure a guard position for the 49ers. Poor rookie play happens, so let’s ignore his first year.
Garnett kicked off his second season with a strange knee injury.
Following practice on August 5, 2017, head coach Kyle Shanahan said he wasn’t sure what was wrong with Garnett’s knee, but “…there’s some stuff in his knee we’re probably going to have to clean up. I don’t think it’s anything long-term, but it’s going to be a little bit of time.”
How did Garnett go the entire 2017 offseason and then decided ten days into camp to get his knee repaired? Did he show up to camp with an undisclosed injury?
Any surgery is a big deal, but advancements in medicine have made arthroscopic knee surgery almost routine. I cannot find a report stating Garnett’s surgery was anything but routine; he didn’t get the joint rebuilt and he didn’t get a brand-new titanium patella. Further, he didn't step on a rogue sprinkler head during practice or slip in the shower.
Recovery time for arthroscopic surgery is about eight weeks, and then a person can start to rehab the knee. Garnett’s had 52 weeks to rest, recover, and rehabilitate his knee.
Fifty-two weeks is a long time to prepare to battle for a starting guard position that he knew was looming on the horizon. Fifty-two weeks is a long time to put in work, only to fizzle out after two practices due to a collision.
Garnett should have been eating the thin gruel of motivation and come out this year so starving, that he sealed up the starting right guard position in two practices.
Instead, a collision has him watching his teammates from the shadow of Levi’s Stadium.
In an eerie coincidence this year, Shanahan responded to a question about Garnett following practice on August 5, 2018.
“His knee’s bothering him. He’s gotten some other opinions and stuff. We’re going to give him a week, take this week off, continue to get treatment and then reassess it next week.”
Once again, Garnett lost another opportunity to start at guard, and he’s probably lost a chance to play for the 49ers.
Shanahan’s quote makes me think there are two issues with Garnett. First, his knee was damaged more than either he or the team let on last year. Second, he wants a fresh start with a new team. Or third, he’s just not interested in playing football anymore.
Garnett’s provided no insight to his situation – he’s entitled not to, of course – but his silence is deafening. If he’s not willing to tell his side or battle through an injury to win a starting role on the 49ers, then we’re left to curiously wonder what's become of Joshua Garnett.
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