SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers know full well from first-hand experience how an injury to the starting quarterback can derail an entire season.
The Niners never recovered from early season injuries that sidelined Jimmy Garoppolo in 2018 and 2020.
The situation is much different this time around after Trey Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2. Instead of going for an unproven backup with no history of success, the 49ers are at the same place they were when they finished last season with a loss in the NFC title game.
Garoppolo is back as the starting quarterback, leading fullback Kyle Juszczyk to say “it looked like Niners football.”
“It was kind of the same,” Juszczyk said of Lance’s switch to Garoppolo. “We ran the ball from the first snap of the season. That’s why I understood this. It’s that not much has really changed.
Garoppolo lacks Lance’s running ability and doesn’t have such a strong arm on deep passes.
But the foundation of the offense is the same they’ve always led under coach Kyle Shanahan, so he believes the differences will mostly be minor.
“We also put all the same stuff in last year, so it’s not as big as people think,” Shanahan said. “You run the exact same descents. Do you just want to get in the gun and read someone or do you want to put it back and not read it. It doesn’t change as much as people think.
The biggest difference might be something that seems minor, but is very noticeable to huddle players: Garoppolo’s voice.
His boisterous delivery cuts through the noise of the crowd, brings a level of calm to the group, and might be Garoppolo’s most unique attribute.
“It’s just clear. It’s distinctive,” Juszczyk said. “He is a leader, he commands. That’s one of the first things I noticed about Jimmy when he comes into caucus is how much control he takes over the caucus. It’s just very well orchestrated.
But the Niners will need more than just command in the squad if they are to have the kind of success they are hoping for this season as a Super Bowl contender.
Despite going 31-14 as a starter in San Francisco, Garoppolo’s limitations led to the decision in 2021 to trade three first-round picks to take Lance third overall.
San Francisco was willing to trade Garoppolo, but he required shoulder surgery in March, which dampened any potential interest early in the offseason.
At the time Garoppolo was healthy, there was no starting job available, so he opted to stay in San Francisco on reduced pay after an awkward training camp where he threw himself on his own. side field and did not attend any meetings while the rest of the Niners prepared for the season.
But Garoppolo’s decision on August 29 to take the reduced salary has left the Niners in much better shape after Lance’s injury as they have a proven starter ready to take over.
Garoppolo had a non-guaranteed salary of $24.2 million for this season, but instead agreed to take $6.5 million guaranteed with the option to earn up to $16 million depending on playing time and other incentives.
He already earned an extra $350,000 for playing at least 25% of the snaps on Sunday and the Niners won the game.
“It’s never about you. I’m not a big guy,” Garoppolo said after the game. “It’s about winning football matches. I’m a big believer in that and people can say whatever they want, talk about stats, whatever, but when you win football games that’s what we’re here to do. That’s all I try to do.
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