Nevius: Time for 49ers' investment in Jimmy Garoppolo to start paying off

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Last week Jimmy Garoppolo put on a 49ers uniform for the first time in 10 months. FYI, he’s as drop-dead handsome as ever. Jimmy GQ is the kind of guy who could walk out of the locker room wearing a raincoat and a bucket hat and you’d say, “cool outfit.”

The 49ers have certainly gone all in. At the entrance to Levi’s Stadium are two banners that must be 50 feet tall.

The one on the left is captioned “Faithful Then,” and it prominently features four-time Super Bowl winner Joe Montana. The one on the right, “Faithful Now,” showcases Jimmy G.

Would this be a good time to point out that he’s only started eight games as a 49er? And that he’s coming off a torn ACL and wearing a knee brace the size of a swing set?

We might want to cool our jets a little here.

The 49ers don’t have a choice, of course. They bet the farm on the guy they traded for on Halloween of 2017. He was thrown into the fray at the end of that season, started five games, won them all and then walked across San Francisco Bay to Sausalito.

In February 2018, the team signed him to a five-year, $137.5 million contract. And fans checked to see where the Super Bowl was — just in case.

Then, in one of the great plot spoilers in the NFL, Garoppolo took what looked like an innocuous hit in Week 3 and blew out his knee.

That was September 23, nearly a year ago. Now the hype is building again.

So this first look has been intense. Reporters are now routinely charting passes in 11-on-11 drills. Seems a little excessive, but that doesn’t mean that we all don’t look at the totals.

And when it was reported that Garroppolo went 5 for 14 Tuesday, there was some alarm. Jimmy G had been teed up for a group interview that afternoon, but canceled. Of course, only a cynic would suggest that he didn’t want to spend 30 minutes talking about eight incomplete passes.

But you know what? That’s the deal. If you want to play for a franchise that values winning (and you do) and if you’re going to cash that $137 million check (and you bet you are), these are the trade-offs: pressure, expectations and PR.

Garoppolo was available for a group interview Thursday and was just fine. He’s trying. I wouldn’t say he makes Buster Posey sound like a standup comic, but he’s not going to be your lead quote, either.

“Overall,” he said at one point, “I think camp is progressing well.”

Honestly, he seems like a good guy who — let’s remember — was a backup quarterback in New England three years ago and had only started two games.

The good news is, none of this matters. Brian Hoyer, who was QB-1 three years ago, was a terrific interview. He lasted six games as a starter.

At the end of the day, Garoppolo isn’t going to be judged by quips, stadium banners or hair products.

It’s going to be on what he does on third-and-eight from his own 25.

And he may show us something. The receiving corps has been beefed up, the offensive line is exhibiting fingers-crossed optimism and we have the inevitable more-comfortable-now-in-the-Kyle-Shanahan-offense quotes.

But it is only fair to point out that after that magical 2017 run, he was just OK last year.

Granted, he was hurt in Week 3, so it is a small sample. But the team was just 1-2. He threw three interceptions against five TDs. He also fumbled four times, although when you are sacked 13 times in 12 quarters, that tends to happen.

Another fact of life as an NFL quarterback are the whispers and blogosphere takes. There have been mutterings that Garoppolo can’t hit the deep ball. Or that he’s been spooked by the pounding from big, angry pass rushers.

Which definitely falls into the category of “only worry about what you can control.” Jimmy’s either going to make the plays or he isn’t.

Thursday, Garoppolo induced some grins when he talked about his “robot mindset.” He said he meant that he wanted to shut everything out and run the offense with machine-like focus.

We can joke about that, but it’s not a bad approach. There’s a lot of noise out there. This is just the start of it.

For now, Garoppolo looks fit, sharp and camera-ready. On the field he’s in charge. He stayed after practice to throw to scatback Trent Taylor, then organized the three other quarterbacks for some passing drills, directing them where to stand and how the ball should be delivered.

Since fans are allowed to buy tickets to training camp, that day the bleachers were full of several hundred faithful in 49ers gear.

Garoppolo finished the drills, looked to the bleachers and then — OMG — jogged over to sign autographs.

The fans rose in unison.

“Jimmmmmmy!” they screamed.

He’s got the look. Now he has to play.

Contact C.W. Nevius at cw.nevius@pressdemocrat.com. Twitter: @cwnevius

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