SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t known for being loquacious in his press briefings.
Garoppolo has mastered the art of saying little during his news conferences with reporters, offering platitudes that are typical of NFL quarterbacks. So naturally when Garoppolo spoke to local journalists Tuesday for the first time since the 49ers drafted his replacement, former North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, Garoppolo didn’t offer a whole lot of substance about the looming quarterback battle.
“Trey’s real cool. We’ve had a great relationship so far,” Garoppolo said. “All the QBs, we’ve got a big QB room right now. It’s a good group of guys, fun to be around.”
But Garoppolo did offer an interesting tidbit when asked if he thought about requesting a trade after the 49ers informed him in March they would be trading up nine spots in the draft to take his eventual replacement.
“When it initially happened, there’s a million emotions that go on throughout your head and you think of all the possible scenarios and things like that,” Garoppolo said. “But at the end of the day, I want to play football. I want to go out there and win games. That’s what I do. It wasn’t anything too crazy. It took a little while to process everything. But once I did, it was just, go out there and ball. You’ve just got to attack it. NFL is a crazy business, things happen, but you’ve just got to attack it day-by-day and make the best of it.”
Garoppolo reached out to Lance as soon as he was drafted via text message last month to congratulate him on completing the move from the FCS to the NFL, which Garoppolo did in 2014 coming out of Eastern Illinois as a second-round pick of the New England Patriots. The two appear to be getting along while they compete for the starting job.
The dynamic is shaping up to be similar to what Garoppolo experienced with New England and Tom Brady. Garoppolo was drafted in the second round to become Brady’s eventual successor, but Brady had other plans and continued winning Super Bowls, forcing New England to trade Garoppolo as his rookie contract was up.
Lance is coming up
Lance is far more certain to overtake Garoppolo than Garoppolo was Brady, who had won five Super Bowls by the time Garoppolo was traded to San Francisco. It’s only a matter of time Lance takes over — but how long that takes likely depends on how well Garoppolo plays or how long he stays healthy. Garoppolo was asked about his situation behind Brady and if there’s anything he learned with the Patriots that could be applied now.
“To be honest, I haven’t put that much thought into it,” Garoppolo said. “The relationship between me and Trey, I think it’ll just happen naturally. It’s not something that you want to force too much. You don’t want to make it fake. Things will happen and that stuff takes time. But, I think it’s one of those situations where you don’t want to go out of your normalcy and do something that’s not you. I just let things happen and take it from there.”
There will be a heated competition at some point and the 49ers’ locker room appears solid enough to absorb the controversy while avoiding potential awkwardness. The team had nearly perfect attendance at OTAs this week, save for injured players like Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Jeff Wilson Jr. and others, despite the sessions being voluntary.
“I don’t think it’s going to be awkward at all,” team captain and All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner said. “Everybody understands that everybody’s competing for a spot. There’s competition. This is our job ... I think this one of the most tight-knit groups of players among all teams in this league. So I’m not worried about that one bit.”
Garoppolo led the starters during 11-on-11 drills during Tuesday’s practice while Lance worked with the backups. Garoppolo and Lance were the only two quarterbacks to get work among the crowded quarterback room that features five players with Nate Sudfeld, Josh Rosen and Josh Johnson rounding out the group.
It’s a unique situation for Shanahan, who’s typically had four quarterbacks on the offseason roster for OTAs. Garoppolo and Lance split 10 full-team reps Tuesday, Shanahan said, while their work is expected to increase as OTAs continue and players get acclimated to being back at the facility in the spring for the first time since 2019. The entire offseason program was wiped out in 2020 from the pandemic.
Looking at Lance
For now, Shanahan said he doesn’t have much of a sample to evaluate when it comes to Lance, who’s been a pro for less than a month.
“I’m not doing enough to really get too into the football or make any judgments off guys,” Shanahan said. “We’re just throwing a lot at Trey that he’s hearing for the first time. We’re throwing a lot at some of these other quarterbacks who have just gotten here for the first time.”
Lance’s game film and physical skill set were what made the 49ers draft him third overall. But the 49ers also believe they have a quality person in the 21-year-old signal-caller from North Dakota State. That’s shown up in the meeting rooms and on the practice field for Lance in the early going, Shanahan said.
“The player, you know the ability that he has and you see that on tape,” Shanahan said. “You don’t really come and look from a coaching standpoint each day like, ‘How’d he do today? Is he that good? Is he not?’ More you just want to get to know about the guy. I’ve got an idea of who I think the person is and being with him these last two weeks, he’s been everything that we hoped and more. I think he’s a very smart kid. He’s a very humble kid. I think he’s a very natural leader. I think the guys have gravitated to him and it’s been fun to throw a lot at him.”
Lance, of course, only played in one game for the Bison last season and has a steep learning curve trying to master Shanahan’s complex West Coast offense. He sailed a few throws during Wednesday’s practice, including one during seven-on-seven drills that was dropped by a reserve tight end and intercepted. He was also picked off during individual drills in rookie minicamp by fifth-round draftee Deommodore Lenoir.
But Shanahan didn’t sound all that concerned.
“We don’t judge a guy’s mechanics every time he throws,” Shanahan said. “That would drive a guy crazy. We just try to coach him and get the ball to the right spot. Usually it has to do with where your feet are, if your feet are under you, and throwing it on time. So that’s just stuff you want them to work through and get better at, but there’s no secret to, ‘Hey, if you just do this, so it won’t be high.’ ”
Garoppolo, meanwhile, says he’s fully recovered from last season’s high ankle sprains that cost him 10 games. He wasn’t wearing the brace on his left knee that’s been customary since he tore his ACL on that leg early in the 2018 campaign.
“His ankle seems totally healed. I haven’t even asked him about it because it looks so good,” Shanahan said.