Exactly 334 days ago, Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers played a game in Kansas City that would reshape their entire season — for the worse.
Almost one year after that fateful game against the Chiefs, in which Garoppolo’s season was ended by a torn ACL, the 49ers return to Arrowhead Stadium.
After a nearly flawless recovery, returning to the scene where his NFL career would change forever has an ominous feel to it. Traveling to Kansas City, the 49ers take on the Chiefs in their preseason Week 3 matchup, and Garoppolo is looking to rebound from a Monday night disastrous outing.
Mental obstacles key for Garoppolo
Finally back on the field for his first NFL action since the injury, Garoppolo was unable to do anything against the Denver Broncos. Garoppolo and the first-team offense played roughly ten snaps in the first quarter, with Garoppolo exiting the game 1-for-6 passing, for zero yards and an interception. Looking to shake off the rust as the regular season quickly approaches, Garoppolo will look to get his mind right as he returns to the scene of his injury.
“It’ll be a good stepping stone. Definitely it’ll be a little weird getting back there, but yeah, just trying to treat it like a normal game.” [“Have you flashed back to that moment a lot over these last 11 months?”] “Yeah, initially after it happened. I mean, you try to replay it all in your head and what you’d do differently and everything like that and really everything that goes into it. It’s come up a couple times, but I think I’m past that at this point.”
Week 3 of the preseason is typically when teams deploy their starters the longest, resting them the majority of Week 4. With just over two weeks until the regular season, Saturday’s matchup will be the 49ers “Dress Rehearsal” game. Head Coach Kyle Shanahan confirmed what was expected, at least a full half from his starters on Saturday:
“I would like them to get a whole half in, but sometimes halves can be 20 plays, sometimes they can be 45. So, it’s more about the play count, but you’d like them to get a normal half in. If they do, depending on how you start with the ball, how many series you get, if you feel good about it. We’d like to not put him back out in the third quarter, but if you don’t feel good and you don’t feel like you got the reps, that’s always an option.”
Key players returning from injuries
For their third preseason matchup, the 49ers will likely deploy both the first-team offense and defense for the first half of the game. Although preseason games put key players at risk of injury, and coaches choose to be overly conservative time, it’s important that all starters see the field for more than a few series. Live, in-game reps are important for players who are expected to be starting once the season begins, especially those coming off injuries.
New 49ers linebacker Kwon Alexander will jump into game action on Saturday for the first time with his new team. Alexander is coming off a torn ACL which he sustained in Week 7 of last season. Signing a four-year, $54 million contract with the 49ers in the offseason, Alexander will be starting on Saturday at the WILL linebacker position.
Just over nine months since his torn ACL, Alexander’s recovery process has been as smooth as he could have hoped. Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh has been impressed with how far Alexander has come in such a short time:
“You know what, I give credit, one to him, with his work ethic, two to the performance staff and the plan that they’ve had for him, and everybody executing it. He’s come along well. He’s made great strides from his first day of practice until now, so I’m excited to get him out there and see what he does for his first game action.”
In addition to Alexander, another key defensive player making his preseason debut Saturday is safety Jimmie Ward, who suffered a broken collarbone in the spring. Ward will be back on the field as he competes for the starting free safety position. The 49ers are very familiar with Ward, and what he is capable of when he is healthy. With the impressive performance of Tarvarius Moore, who has been converted from cornerback to safety, Ward’s role as the starter is no longer guaranteed. Saleh discussed how Ward will prepare for his first game action of the season:
“For Jimmie, it’s no different than as if it was the first day of camp. So, he’s going to come in, he’s going to practice, he’s going to get his reps in and we’ll talk about the plan for him during the game during the week for game action, but just see where he’s at. But, I think mentally, he’ll be okay. He’s been in all the meetings, he’s been going through all of it, he’s been in individual, he’s been at all the walk-throughs, so it’ll be a quick adjustment for him.”
Clarity on the wide receiver battle?
As the final 53-man roster seems to be coming into focus, one area that remains a headscratcher is wide receiver. Even before an injury to Trent Taylor, it was unclear which receivers would make the roster. With the 49ers heading into their third and most important preseason game, we may have a clue as to one receiver who might just make the roster.
Following practice on Thursday, Shanahan met with reporters, where he discussed the team’s upcoming game, as well as Jordan Matthews and his limited snaps thus far, and how that is an indicator of how highly the 49ers view him.
“That’s an indication that we feel very good about we know what Jordan is. Jordan’s had a hell of a camp. He’s done very good in practice, he’s been consistent in OTAs, he’s been very consistent in training camp and we’ve seen him a lot on tape before he got here. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Jordan and I know we can win with Jordan. Trying to
find out a little bit more about other guys that we don’t know as well and you’ve got to give those guys that opportunity. I did wish he played a little bit more versus Denver. We were going to have him go in at F and then switch in later with [WR Jalen] Hurd, and then Hurd ended up having back tightness, we ended up giving [WR] Richie [James Jr.] those opportunities. That says nothing about Jordan. We know what Jordan can do and we’re trying to find out what more of these other guys can do.”
- Tight end George Kittle did not practice on Thursday before the team left for Kansas City. Dealing with a calf injury, Shanahan and the 49ers wanted to be cautious with their Pro Bowl tight end. Kittle is not expected to play Saturday against the Chiefs.
- Free safety Tarvarius Moore has been progressing quickly in his conversion from cornerback. A few weeks ago, Saleh stated that he was “nowhere near” ready to start, but now says that Moore has “earned the right to be part of the discussion.”
- Defensive end Dee Ford has been dealing with a flare-up in his knee, which is a common thing for him during training camps throughout his career. Ford has yet to play in a preseason game for the 49ers, and the team is not worried. Robert Saleh says that Ford’s position is “less mentally taxing than it was with the Chiefs.”