SANTA CLARA — I’m picking the 49ers to beat the Chicago Bears.
But, really, who cares?
We’re here to see Jimmy Garoppolo. Here to see what he will add to the 49ers offense. Here to see how Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will try to stop him.
These are the five things to watch while we scrutinize the 49ers’ newest quarterback.
1. Energy and optimism.
By the end of last week’s game against the Seattle Seahawks, former 49ers starting quarterback C.J. Beathard was beaten down, disheartened, simply trying to survive.
When he left the game with knee and hip injuries late in the fourth quarter, Garoppolo replaced him and the mood of the entire offense changed. Suddenly it seemed fresh, energetic and optimistic, just like Garoppolo.
Garoppolo hasn’t lost a game he has started or taken a hit this season. He’s cheerful. We saw this on the final play of the Seahawks game when he calmly scrambled to his left and threw a touchdown pass to the third receiver in his progression, Louis Murphy.
During that sequence, Garoppolo seemed supremely confident, like a veteran Pro Bowler.
But, it’s easy to seem confident for a minute during garbage time when the game essentially is over. We need to see if Garoppolo’s confidence and optimism will last for 60 minutes against the Bears, or if he’ll crumble after a few hits.
2. Quick release.
Like Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard, Garoppolo will have to deal with a terrible offensive line giving him very little protection, and inadequate receivers.
Hoyer and Beathard couldn’t overcome these deficiencies with the 49ers offense. Those two took big hits as they stood in crumbling pockets and waited for receivers to get open.
But, Garoppolo has an advantage over Hoyer and Beathard.
“When anybody watches (Garoppolo) throw, he obviously can speed it up quicker,” Kyle Shanahan said this week. He was referring to the way Garoppolo releases the ball.
“Jimmy has the ability with his quick release that he doesn’t always have to anticipate. He can make up for it if he’s a hair late. He has the speed and quick twitch in his body to get it there and overcome some things.”
Will Garoppolo’s quick release protect him from pass rushers on Sunday? For what it’s worth, it didn’t protect him in New England. During his second start with the Patriots, he took a crushing hit and tore a ligament in his throwing shoulder.
Another reason Hoyer and Beathard got clobbered this season: They both lack anticipation.
Those two quarterbacks typically need visual confirmation a receiver is open before making a pass. Waiting for visual confirmation forced Hoyer and Beathard to hold the ball longer and take more hits than they should have.
Garoppolo spent the past three seasons backing up Tom Brady, one of the best anticipation passers ever. Brady anticipates an opening in the defense and throws the ball before his receiver reaches that opening. That’s one reason Brady stays healthy and takes few hits.
Has Garoppolo learned from Brady to throw with anticipation?
“He has the ability to do it,” Shanahan said. “He’s a very smart guy, can read coverages, know where it’s going. But, that takes reps and time and that’s something he hasn’t had yet. I’m not going to sit here and make big judgments off that. That’s something I think he’ll get better with the more comfortable he gets in our offense.”