SANTA CLARA — Pierre Garcon holds up his left hand and spreads his fingers as wide as they go. “I wish I had bigger hands,” he says. “They’re bigger than yours, but I wouldn’t say they’re considered big.”
They’re big. From thumb to pinky, Garcon’s hands are nine-and-a-half inches long. They almost never drop a pass. “It’s nothing complicated,” he says in the 49ers locker room. “I practice at it and I’ve done it millions and millions of times over and over. I’ve seen the ball, I know where it’s going, I put my hands on it, I know when to squeeze and when to rip it away and put it somewhere I can hold onto it.”
Garcon has held onto 33 passes through six games as a 49er. He’s on pace to catch 88 passes this season, which would be the most by a 49ers player since Terrell Owens caught 100 passes in 2002.
What makes Garcon a special receiver? Is it the hands?
“One, he’s talented,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “But, what separates Pierre from everyone else is his mindset. He played at Mount Union, a Division III school. He was a sixth-round draft choice. He has really had to work and grind to make it in this league.
“We paid him a lot to come to Washington five years ago. Same thing for him to come here. And he’s, to me, always the same guy. He’s always a guy who has had a chip on his shoulder. He needs to prove himself every single day.
“I always say you’re getting better or worse — if you ever lose that edge in this league as a coach or as a player, you’re on your way out. And Pierre is a guy who will fight you to the death. That’s why he can sometimes have a little bit of an anger streak to him, which is what I think separates him from the rest, because he always feels like he has something to prove, and I think you guys can see that in the way he plays.
“The guys who walk around and act angry all the time are usually the guys who are trying to talk themselves into something. That’s what Pierre is. Pierre is a good person. He’s a guy you can count on to do his job. Lots of guys get ready to play in different ways. I know he goes to a dark place and takes it out on the field. I love watching it.”
Everyone saw the anger last Sunday when the 49ers played the Redskins. Garcon caught a pass near Washington’s 10-yard line, turned up field, lowered his shoulder, ran into Redskins safety Montae Nicholson, popped Nicholson’s helmet off, knocked Nicholson unconscious and kept running. The game officials didn’t penalize Garcon for his hit, but the NFL fined him $24,309 after reviewing the film.
You don’t see the anger when you talk to Garcon. He comes across as mellow, thoughtful, smart (he’s fluent in Creole; both of his parents are Haitian), analytical, lighthearted and humble.
“My role on the team is just like any other guy’s role,” Garcon said. “When your number is called, Shanahan is expecting you to come through and make the play for him, for the team, for the offense.”
But Garcon’s role is not just like any other guy’s role. He is the go-to guy in the passing game, the player Shanahan wants to have the ball when the 49ers need to make a play.
Shanahan and Garcon worked together on the Redskins from 2012 to 2013 and reunited this year. They have deep respect for each other.
“(Shanahan) is a very informative teacher,” Garcon says. “He tells you a lot of information about a lot of different things that the defense is going to do, that the offense should do. It’s a lot of information. Sometimes too much information, but he’s a good teacher and you feel like you learn. You know what he’s talking about, and you know that he knows what he’s talking about when he’s explaining things to you.
“He watches a lot of film. He knows what teams are going to do from their personnel. He studies tendencies from teams and what they like to do. He sees the weakness in the defense before it even lines up. He kind of knows what they’re going to do, so he knows where he wants to attack and who he wants to get the ball to and different things like that.
“He always has those explosive plays that he wants to make, and he knows how to get the ball to the guys that are going to get open when the defense lines up or before it even lines up, to tell you the truth.”
Despite Shanahan’s expertise and Garcon’s talent, the 49ers’ offense has been inconsistent this season — it ranks 23rd in points scored and 28th in yards gained. But Garcon isn’t angry or frustrated. He’s optimistic.
“We’re headed in the right direction,” he said. “It takes time. Guys have to feel comfortable in the offense — they’re still getting their feet wet. I’ve been around the offense a lot longer than most of the guys, so that’s what makes me more comfortable and confident in it. Once everybody gets comfortable and can play and see things happen before they happen, we can definitely see the growth in it.”