SANTA CLARA — At the crucial moment in the 49ers’ 44-33 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo became an infielder.
He was facing third-and-goal from the 5-yard line. The 49ers led 23-19 with 10:42 left in the fourth quarter. Center Daniel Kilgore snapped the ball, and the Jaguars dropped eight defenders into the end zone to cover the 49ers’ five eligible receivers. None were open.
Garoppolo scrambled to his left and Jaguars cornerback Aaron Colvin sprinted toward him. Like a shortstop turning a double play, Garoppolo dropped his right elbow and threw a sidearm pass around the approaching Colvin and found his target, wide receiver Trent Taylor. Taylor caught the ball for the touchdown.
“I’ve been doing those throws since high school, so it kind of just came second nature to me,” Garoppolo said in the 49ers auditorium Wednesday afternoon.
“I was a pitcher, played a little shortstop, a little center, bounced around. I always threw sidearm. I threw submarine a little bit. Those different arm angles — baseball you use every type of arm angle.”
Jimmy Garoppolo, meet Brandon Crawford.
“I know a lot of guys who played baseball who can’t throw the ball like (Garoppolo),” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I think God has to give you that ability, first and foremost.
“I’m not the biggest baseball guy, but you do see it from shortstops and second basemen, especially when they’re turning two. It’s a little bit harder to do with the football and a little bit harder to do when you’re running to your left. There are not many people who can make that throw. I’m glad we’ve got one of the guys who can.
“His body is different, the way he can throw. I think everyone can see that. He can make unusual throws from unusual angles. He’s like a JUGS machine. He’s just sitting there ready to throw. It doesn’t matter how his body is, he’s just ready to throw at any time. That definitely helps, especially when you get him in some off-schedule situations, and you’re going the wrong way and not a lot of people believe you can make that (throw), and he found a way to do it.”
Garoppolo’s baseball-style touchdown pass to Taylor was an “off-schedule” throw. The play had run its course, the receivers had run their routes and Garoppolo still had the ball. The schedule and timing of the play broke down. Then Garoppolo started scrambling and made his own schedule.
“You talk about the off-schedules, that’s what has been great,” Shanahan said. “You get some three-man rushes in the red zone, and you’ve got eight guys (on defense) against four or five (receivers). Those aren’t really good numbers, especially to hit people in rhythm.
“I always sit there and feel like the play is done, but Jimmy has proved me wrong the last few weeks. That has been real fun for me, seeing no one open and knowing that maybe that’s a good thing because (Garoppolo) ends up getting someone open late. The off-schedule plays have been the best thing to me personally. I think there’s huge upside there and a lot of things we can do.”
Do Garoppolo and the 49ers practice off-schedule plays during regularly scheduled practices?