Jimmy Garoppolo is looking forward to finally getting in a full season as the 49ers’ starting quarterback.
Although San Francisco has suffered some big injuries in two years under coach Kyle Shanahan – including the torn left ACL Garoppolo suffered in Week 3 at Kansas City last season – there are high hopes for the team to rebound from 4-12 and challenge for the playoffs with its QB back healthy in 2019.
Garoppolo spoke with Sporting News this week about his tough road to quick recovery for this season, the continued influence of Tom Brady and how the 49ers’ improving offensive weapons – including the new Gronk – can help his team meet those lofty expectations.
Sporting News: You had a frustrating end to 2018 after injuring your knee right when you were getting settled in Kyle’s offense. How difficult was that, and then how rewarding has it been to come back ready to play less than a year later?
Jimmy Garoppolo: Initially, it was very tough. Mentally, it was hard accepting that you had put all this work in during the offseason and you don’t get to see any of it go through. But having Jerick McKinnon (torn ACL last August) around, as we were both rehabbing at the same time and talking to guys who had been in that situation before, really helped.
To get back for OTAs the way I did, and that I was able to participate, I couldn’t have asked for much more. I’m feeling good going into training camp.
SN: When you couldn’t be out on the field and observed what C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens were doing in your place, what did you take away from that experience?
Garoppolo: You’re seeing the game from a different perspective, more of a coach’s perspective. I took every opportunity, whether it was third down, red zone or backed up in our own end and said, “What would I call here? What would I be thinking?” It helped my mental game tremendously watching the way Kyle does and strengthened us as quarterback and play-caller. The more we can do that, the better.
SN: When you saw what the team was doing to upgrade the offense this offseason, how much faster did that make you want to get back?
Garoppolo: The motivation to get back on the field, it’s always been there, because I haven’t been used to not being on the field. Then seeing the guys who came in, the free agents we signed, the rookies we drafted, things started to come together, piece by piece.
Exciting is a good word for it, but also anxious to get back out there and go to work with them.
SN: Is there a sense of urgency with the offense after the lost time? How has everyone embraced the pressure to match the expectations?
Garoppolo: In a perfect world, this offense will keep getting better and keep going upward. As a football player you’re always trying to be perfect. It may not be realistic or possible, but that’s the goal. We have a good group of guys who all have that mentality. We trust the results will come.
Whatever the level of hype going on outside the building, we are going to put more pressure on ourselves than anyone else. As long as we go out there, put the work in, put the time in and continually grind, good things will happen. We just have to go out there and prove it.
SN: You haven’t been Tom’s backup in New England for a while now, but we saw you hanging out with him again at the Kentucky Derby. How strong does that connection remain for you as former teammates, especially that he also experienced a torn ACL earlier in his career?
Garoppolo: Tom is a great friend. He’s real down to earth – if I ever have a question on anything I text him and he replies very quickly with an answer. You have to appreciate that in him. He’ll text to just say hello.
I talked to him about my knee rehab earlier this offseason, and he helped me there. It’s a great relationship, and I’m thankful I have him to help.
SN: As for your current teammates, Dante Pettis looks like he is ready to break out as one of the NFL’s top wide receivers. What makes him so special as a potential No. 1?
Garoppolo: Dante is something else. His physical ability is different from most receivers, and different from any receiver I’ve been with. How he moves, it’s very long and gangly, but he makes it work. He has enough explosiveness and power to get out of cuts when it doesn’t look like he can.
I’m thrilled about it. It makes my job easier for someone to win one-on-one opportunities like that. He’s a tremendous talent and keeps working, grinding to make big things happen.
SN: Rookie second-round pick Deebo Samuel is headed for a big role after flying out of the gate in OTAs. How fun has it been to see him grow in such a short time?
Garoppolo: Picking up an NFL playbook isn’t the easiest thing in the world. For these young guys – and the new veteran guys such as Tevin Coleman, Jordan Matthews – to come in and pick up the offense as quickly as they did, it’s impressive. It’s a testament for all the hard work they’ve put in over their off time and it pays off. Deebo is going into training camp rolling with a great opportunity.
SN: You had the fortune of playing with one great tight end, Rob Gronkowski, and now are playing with another, George Kittle. How do they compare in what they can do?
Garoppolo: There are a lot of similarities – on the field and a little bit off the field, too (laughs). George is tremendous. The energy he brings every day, how he goes about his business – he’s always having fun while he’s doing it. Very similar to Gronk, they both enjoy what they do.
It makes everything more enjoyable. It’s fun to be around, and it’s contagious. To have a guy like that makes our team so much closer as well as much better.
SN: Nice to see that you’ve partnered with Men’s Wearhouse for their annual Suit Drive, which calls upon customers to #ThrowbackandDonate gently used professional attire to men and women who are looking to re-enter the workplace. How rewarding was that for you?
Garoppolo: It was a great opportunity that got thrown my way. I was excited about it because I saw the resemblance in the mentality of walking into a job interview for the first time and making a good first impression to the football mentality of “look good, feel good, play good.” Whenever you can help men and women who are less fortunate to look the part that they’re trying to go get, you have to take advantage of it.
SN: As an NFL quarterback, I’m sure you’ve had to upgrade your wardrobe a little since you entered the league. Where do you stand suit-wise now?
Garoppolo: In college, you wore sweats all the time – a pair of jeans was dressing up. I’ve definitely come a long way as far as that goes.
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