SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Since Halloween night last year, the 49ers have followed a trajectory from winless to one of the most intriguing teams in the NFL. The storied franchise traded for Jimmy Garoppolo, then won five straight games once he became the starter, and then rewarded him with a five-year, $137.5 million contract—and the buzz continued to grow.
On a typically sun-soaked practice field for minicamp this week, though, this certainly didn’t feel like a team consumed by the hype. Two sloppy days of practice for the offense yielded two post-practice sessions in which Garoppolo stayed late for extra work with some of his teammates. On Tuesday the entire group stayed to work on issues with snap-count timing that had resulted in several false starts. On Wednesday the quarterback lingered on the field with two of his young targets after some failed drives in 11-on-11 team drills.
“What I like to see in Jimmy is just [going] through situations,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I like seeing him make mistakes. I like seeing him come in and work on it. I like seeing him when we get them in that same situation, the same coverage and the same looks, and I like seeing him correct what he messed up two days ago.”
It was exactly what you’d expect from a football team in June. If anything stood out, it was how ordinary the minicamp felt. Jimmy GQ may have taken the NFL by storm last November and December, but Niners have gone out of their way not to feed the hype machine (after making him, briefly, the highest-paid player in the NFL, of course).
At the same time, there’s no doubt that there is a different feeling around the 49ers than there’s been in years—that feeling of being settled and secure that a good marriage brings, with a head coach and GM operating as true partners, and a franchise quarterback in place who everybody believes in.
Former rival Richard Sherman, known as “Uncle Richard” in the locker room, returned to individual drills as he’s working his way back from his season-ending Achilles tear, and was vocally cheering on the defense from the sideline during team drills. Linebacker Reuben Foster was on the practice field after felony domestic violence charges were dropped by a judge when the accuser, his ex-girlfriend, testified she made up the allegations. Jerick McKinnon, the versatile former Vikings running back signed in free agency, had one of the best plays of minicamp for the offense when he exploded through the defense after a short pass from Garoppolo and took it some 70 yards for a TD.
This was the last official work of the offseason—after a family day in lieu of the final minicamp practice Thursday, the 49ers will break until training camp, though Garoppolo said he planned to try to organize some kind of summer throwing sessions with the skill position players.
“I think I’ve come a long way, especially from last season where I was just kind of cramming everything in,” Garoppolo said. “But, still a long way to go developing that chemistry between me and the skill positions, the O-Line, everything. It’s a work in progress every time.”
Shanahan said he was trying to look at some of the miscues from the offense before the summer dismissal as a good day for the defense. The other way to look at it is as a reminder that 5-0 wasn’t quite as easy as it looked at the time—a well-timed antidote for the offseason hype trap into which the team has been quite wary of falling.
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