SANTA CLARA — So, is Jimmy Garoppolo really, truly the 49ers starting quarterback?
Last week, before Garoppolo debuted as the 49ers starting quarterback, before he completed 70 percent of his passes and threw for 293 yards and beat the Chicago Bears on the road, head coach Kyle Shanahan said he would decide on a weekly basis if Garoppolo will start or go back to the bench.
So what about this week?
“I’ll let you know at the end of the week,” Shanahan said with a coy smile at his Monday news conference.
Then he said, “I’m just joking.”
Yes, Garoppolo is the 49ers’ starting quarterback. And no, not just for this week. Garoppolo will start the five remaining games on the 49ers schedule, Shanahan said.
What does Shanahan hope Garoppolo will get from playing the next five games?
“You’ve got to gain the muscle memory so you can react,” Shanahan said. “Jimmy is out there thinking, ‘Hey, I know he just called this, what does that mean again? I had it down yesterday. What is it? All right, that’s it. All right, the ball is snapping. Oh, I forgot to change the protection.’ Just little things.
“You play your best when you can kind of go on auto-pilot and you’re just in the zone and you’re making plays. The only way you can do that is if you’ve had tons of reps and a lot of experience through things, and obviously he hasn’t. Each game that he goes through, that’s going to help more and more.
“He’s going to keep (playing) here for five weeks in a row. I think he’ll absorb more and be able to be more decisive and just mindful when he’s in that pocket of where he has to go and make the plays he does.”
Even though Garoppolo must become more decisive, Shanahan was encouraged by Garoppolo’s performance against the Bears.
“There are definitely situations where he got a little confused and still was able to make plays. I think it was very impressive, the situation he was in, for him to keep his poise and make some plays when things weren’t perfect.”
Garoppolo has been with the 49ers just five weeks; Shanahan expected him to be confused at times. But in one instance, Garoppolo understood a play better than a player who has been in Shanahan’s system all year — running back Carlos Hyde.
Hyde lined up in the backfield and motioned to the slot on the right side of the 49ers formation. But, he was supposed to motion to the left. Garoppolo instantly recognized Hyde’s mistake, redirected the running back and called for the snap before the play clock expired.
“That was one of the challenging things putting (Garoppolo) in this situation,” Shanahan said. “He’s playing with a lot of young guys who need help from the quarterback. He’ll get better at being able to help them each week.”
While Garoppolo masters the mental side of the 49ers offense, he still can show his advanced physical skill set. He made difficult throws into tight spaces and extended plays with his legs.
“Those are things you expect from him, just because that’s what he did throughout college,” Shanahan said. “When I say he’s a talented guy, he has the ability to do that stuff. Everyone can see his arm speed. Whether he’s late on a play or not, he has the quick twitch in his body to get the ball there and to get it into some windows.