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Examining CJ Beathard's 'it' factor as 49ers' new quarterback

Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, right, greets San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard after Sunday's game in Landover, Md., Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

GRANT COHN,

SANTA CLARA — 49ers players agree C.J. Beathard has “it.” But what exactly is “it”?

Every good quarterback has “it” — an intangible quality separate from his ability to throw a football. For Joe Montana, “it” was his dead-on cool and accuracy. For Steve Young, “it” was the joy with which he played. For Colin Kaepernick, “it” was his running.

“It” matters. If “it” didn’t matter, Jeff George would have been a great quarterback. Ryan Leaf would have been a great quarterback. Brian Hoyer would be a great quarterback right now and still the starter for the 49ers. But those guys never had “it.”

What is Beathard’s “it”?

“I don’t know,” Beathard said, trying to define his “it” Wednesday in the locker room. “I just think I don’t get too high or too low in any situation. I try to stay pretty mellow because I know the game of football, there’s a lot of ups and downs. You never want to get too mad when you have a bad play or too high when you have a good one. It’s all about staying mellow and staying the same through all of it.”

Beathard’s coach, Kyle Shanahan, is a big believer in “it,” and sees “it” in the rookie quarterback. “I think everyone, especially quarterbacks, who are successful have something besides just talent,” Shanahan said. “You have to have the ability to throw in this league to make it, and not many people do at this level.

“But the other intangibles separate everyone. Who can handle the pressure, who can do it week in and week out, who can handle the highs and lows and recover through adversity and things like that?

“I think he has shown that around college and, just being around the guy, I think he is a very tough person both physically and mentally. Those are his biggest strengths.”

Center Daniel Kilgore sees a different “it” factor in Beathard.

“For me, I feel like he doesn’t ever hesitate, especially when he’s throwing the ball,” Kilgore said. “He’s a gunslinger. I would say that he kind of has a little Brett Favreness to him. He doesn’t hesitate, he doesn’t hold back — he lets that ball fly. He enjoys to go out and compete. He does a good job of coming in and not second-guessing anything.”

Kilgore is the second-longest tenured player on the 49ers. Since joining the team as a rookie in 2011, he has worked with five different starting quarterbacks including Beathard, so Kilgore knows what to look for in a quarterback. He has a keen eye and he’s observant.

“For the most part, (Beathard) is pretty quiet,” Kilgore said. “He will talk (stuff) to the guys, but he’s a rookie and most of the rookies are pretty quiet. Once he gets on the field, it’s all business for him.

“He has obviously played a lot of ball. He came in (to the huddle) and it seemed like he was pretty calm. It was his first action as a rookie, so you know deep down he’s going to be a little nervous. But for the most part, I feel like he did a good job. He came in, got us back in the ballgame, finished the half with the two-minute (drive) and scored a couple times. It was nice to see.”

Rookie tight end George Kittle said Beathard’s “it” is his competitiveness.

“It doesn’t matter what the game is — Ping-Pong, tic-tac-toe — he’s upset if he loses,” Kittle said. “I think that’s a great thing about him. All he wants to do is win. And he’s good at winning. He proved that at Iowa and I think he’s going to prove that here.”

Beathard and Kittle played together at Iowa — they were even roommates. Kittle knows the rookie quarterback quite well.

“He’s the same dude day in and day out — that’s what I like about Ceej,” Kittle said. “He shows up to work every single day, does the same stuff over and over. It’s really nice to get that consistency out of him. He’s a reliable guy. Cool. Calm. Confident. That’s just how he is on and off the field. He knows he’s going to do a great job — you can just kind of sense that with him. He takes command really easily. Everyone looks up to him.”

So, that’s one vote for competitiveness, one for confidence and one for toughness. It’s a three-way tie. Pierre Garcon, will you please cast the deciding vote? What is “it” about Beathard?

“He hasn’t shown his intangible skill yet,” the veteran said. “He’s just learning and getting better. Once he gets comfortable, he can let himself come out.”

In other words, “it” will come.