SANTA CLARA (AP) — San Francisco 49ers running back Jerick McKinnon was watching his teammates from a hotel just days after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery when he saw quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s knee buckle.
McKinnon knew immediately what Garoppolo was enduring, having torn his own anterior cruciate ligament just three weeks earlier.
“When you have an injury like this, a season-ending injury, there’s emotion that comes with it at first,” McKinnon said Wednesday. “When I saw the play that ended his season, I already knew what he was going through. For me and him to have somebody to go through that experience with and not be alone and push each other along the way will definitely help.”
McKinnon reached out to Garoppolo as soon as the game in Kansas City ended on Sept. 23. McKinnon told him what his experience was like after getting hurt in practice on Sept. 1 and how he dealt with the pain and stiffness following surgery.
Garoppolo had his surgery Wednesday to repair his left knee. Coach Kyle Shanahan said he didn’t know whether any additional damage needed to be repaired or whether Garoppolo would be recovered in time for the offseason program next spring.
But he will have a partner in rehabilitation in McKinnon.
“Jimmy’s a warrior,” McKinnon said. “I’m pretty sure that he has the same mindset I had in the whole situation and recovery process. The only thing we can do is push each other through these next nine months.”
Garoppolo and McKinnon were being counted on to lead San Francisco’s offense after Garoppolo signed a five-year, $137.5 million contract in the offseason and McKinnon joined the Niners as a free agent with a four-year, $30 million deal.
But McKinnon got hurt a week before the season opener and Garoppolo went down in Week 3, when he tried to plant and cut up field instead of running out of bounds late in a loss to the Chiefs.
Those injuries dealt a major blow to the 49ers (1-3), who are now going with C.J. Beathard at quarterback and Matt Breida at running back. San Francisco hosts Arizona on Sunday.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Shanahan said. “It’s the biggest challenge I think in our game. It’s a challenge that a lot of people deal with, that I’ve had to deal with in my career before. ... Chalk a lot of that up to just luck.”
Breida has rushed for 316 yards and is averaging 7.6 yards per carry so far this season.
Beathard lost four of five starts as a rookie last year before Garoppolo took over and had the second-lowest passer rating of any qualifying quarterback. He looked better in his first start this year, throwing for a career-high 298 yards and two TDs in a loss at the Chargers.
“I think just getting the ball out quicker and making reads quicker is definitely a big part of it,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with the offense just slowing down for me. I’m able to go through progressions quicker and stuff like that. But, there’s a lot of things in the offseason, just little things that you want to critique so you can get better at.”
NOTES: The Niners were without three starting offensive linemen at practice with LT Joe Staley, C Weston Richburg and RT Mike McGlinchey all sidelined. Shanahan wasn’t certain if any would be able to return this week. ... CB Richard Sherman and WR Marquise Goodwin also did not practice and WE Dante Pettis is out this week with a knee injury. ... WR Victor Bolden Jr. returned to practice after a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. The 49ers don’t need to make a roster move to activate Bolden until next Monday.