SANTA CLARA (AP) — Jimmy Garoppolo’s return from a season-ending knee injury hit a few road bumps during training camp and the preseason.
Now Garoppolo must face the next test in his comeback, with his first regular-season game in more than 11 months. The San Francisco 49ers visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the season opener Sunday.
He’s eager to get back on the field for games that count after a summer of people dissecting his every throw to determine whether he could still be a franchise quarterback.
“It’s been a long time coming, so I’m excited to get back out there,” Garoppolo said Wednesday. “I don’t know, you can’t really listen to all that stuff. We’ve got so much going on with our stuff, mentally, physically, that you’re trying to deal with all that. It’s exciting to be back.”
The 49ers are counting on a healthy and effective Garoppolo this season after four straight losing seasons and just 10 wins total in the first two campaigns under coach Kyle Shanahan.
Garoppolo acknowledged having some physical and mental hurdles to clear during the offseason and training camp and the question remains how quickly he’ll be back up to speed in the regular season.
“I know Jimmy can play,” Shanahan said. “I can’t tell you exactly how he’s going to play, every single play or every single game. I know Jimmy is going to have some ups and downs, but I don’t sit there and try to make a different decision based off of one practice or one preseason game and then flip the next game. Jimmy’s working his way back. He’s ready to go. He’s as far along as he can be. I know he’s confident, excited for the season, but we need Sunday to come not just for him but for all of us. We’ve all been itching for this game since the season ended last year and when you’re coming back from an injury I think that’s even heightened for those type of players.”
Garoppolo was supposed to reverse the 49ers’ fortunes after being acquired in the middle of the 2017 season from New England. He stepped in as the starter late in that season and won all five of his starts to end the year, earning a five-year, $137.5 million contract as the new face of the franchise.
Things didn’t go so smoothly the next season as Garoppolo struggled in his three starts before the injury. He completed less than 60% of his passes before the injury and saw his yards per attempt drop, while his sack and interception rates went up.
He spent his time on the sideline getting tutored in the intricacies of the offense by former NFL coach Mike Shanahan, Kyle’s father, and also tinkered a bit with his mechanics during offseason sessions with quarterback guru Tom House.
But that process to get back to the form he showed late in 2017, when he was one of the game’s most promising prospects, wasn’t always smooth this summer. He had some rough practices, including one where he threw interceptions on five straight throws.
He then had a horrible first exhibition game in Denver, completing 1 of 6 passes for 0 yards and an interception. But he played well in his second start at Kansas City and now the Niners want to see if he can build on that when the season starts against Tampa Bay.
“I think everybody is (excited). Not just here, but all over America is ready to see what Jimmy Garoppolo can do,” right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “We’re all really excited to see what he can do and we expect nothing but great things from him this week.”
NOTES: DE Nick Bosa (ankle), WR Dante Pettis (groin), C Weston Richburg (knee), CB Jason Verrett (ankle), CB K’Waun Williams (knee) were all limited at practice. ... LT Joe Staley got a veteran day off from practice. ... WR Jalen Hurd (back) was held out and is doubtful to play this week. ... WR Trent Taylor (foot) will also miss the game.