SANTA CLARA, Calif. — It might not have been the biggest step for Jimmy Garoppolo’s recovery process, but it was an important one nonetheless.
The 49ers’ franchise quarterback on Tuesday ended the first mandatory minicamp session working in a two-minute drill behind an offensive line. It was the first time — at least during sessions open to reporters — Garoppolo practiced behind blockers since tearing his left ACL last September in Kansas City.
He’s been limited to seven-on-seven drills throughout the offseason program, leaving backups Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard under center during 11-on-11 drills. However, there were no pass rushers on the field. Garoppolo hasn’t been cleared for full-team drills and won’t be until training camp. The team will wait at least another six weeks before forcing him to deal with pass rushers playing near his front plant leg that’s reinforced by a lightweight brace.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said the drill was designed to get all of the offensive players on the field to hear calls and execute the right plays. The offense in the simulation was down, 14-10, inside of two minutes remaining.
“It’s not all competing, there’s a lot of scheme and stuff that goes into them hearing the calls and stuff like that, so we wanted to get live action with him,” Shanahan said.
Garoppolo continued to look sharp mostly in seven-on-seven drills. At one point, he completed four straight passes, highlighted by a long touchdown throw to speedy running back Tevin Coleman on a wheel route up the right sideline with a linebacker in coverage.
However, Garoppolo struggled to connect with wideout Marquise Goodwin on a pair of deep passes. On the first, there appeared to be a miscommunication while Goodwin was running a double move toward the middle of the field. The second went deep down the right sideline and Goodwin appeared to get tangled up with a cornerback, throwing off the timing. The pass was less than a yard outside of Goodwin’s grasp.
Meanwhile, Beathard and Mullens are still on even ground for the backup quarterback job, Shanahan said. The true competition to become Garoppolo’s understudy won’t fully begin until training camp. The two have spent the spring rotating with the first-stringers during full-team drills. Tuesday, it was Beathard who saw the bulk of the time with the starters.
“They’ve both been doing a real good job, both playing at a high level, so that’s been exciting,” Shanahan said. “But to sit there and really stress over, from a coaching standpoint, trying to make the decision, we’re not there yet because a lot could change. These guys have both proven that they can play in this league and we’re going to have to make a tough decision at the end of preseason to which one we want to give that number two job to.”
Mullens clearly outperformed Beathard last season, but Shanahan hand-picked Beathard in the third round of the 2017 draft. And Beathard has been the more impressive quarterback during the sessions open to reporters this spring.
“You hope Jimmy stays healthy so it’s irrelevant who’s the No. 2 guy,” Shanahan said. “But the No. 2 guy does get a lot more reps in practice and stuff, so that’s gonna be very important for them.”
Shanahan kept just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster throughout his two seasons as coach. But he wouldn’t rule out keeping three if the numbers at other positions allow it. That could prove difficult given the team’s surplus of running backs, receivers and defensive linemen, which could mean either Mullens or Beathard gets traded before the season starts.
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