SANTA CLARA, CA — True to his word, San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan declined to name the quarterback in Sunday’s regular season final game against the Los Angeles Rams.
In the past three days, a variety of comments from Shanahan, 49 players and at least Friday’s injury report have made it clear that Jimmy Garoppolo does indeed have a chance to come back this week from the right thumb injury that kept him out in Week 17.
Officially, Garoppolo is listed as suspect on the injury report after participating in all three practices on a limited basis. He’s still split between the cast with rookie Trey Lance, who started against the Houston Texans in his place last week.
But don’t mistake Shanahan’s silence with hesitation. There is a plan in place; He doesn’t want to reveal it yet with the 9-7 Niners going into Sunday needing a win, a draw, a New Orleans Saints loss or a draw to qualify for the playoffs.
“I won’t decide on Sunday morning,” said Shanahan, who said Wednesday he wouldn’t name a freshman before Sunday. “We don’t have any training left. I know where Jimmy is today. I know where Therese is. I know where our team is. I feel good about where we are. I’m excited to get to Sunday.
“I’m really glad I don’t have any press conferences anymore, so as soon as I survive this, I’m done talking about it. I think we’ll be good afterwards, but I think you guys understand why they don’t announce but regardless, especially with Trey playing last week, We have two players here with some experience that our team is satisfied with and we will see how you play.”
While Shanahan played timidly last week, there was little doubt that Lance would start against Houston because Garoppolo hadn’t trained at all during the week, and Shanahan repeatedly indicated that Garoppolo could use overtime to play against the Rams.
This week, there’s a bit more doubt, though, with plenty of indication Garoppolo will regain his primary job against a team the Niners have defeated all five times Garoppolo has started against.
Teammates such as George Kittel and receiver Debo Samuel stated that Garoppolo was throwing the ball well in practice, although Garoppolo admitted on Wednesday that throwing would be more about pain management than being able to do so.
“Jimmy looks like Jimmy to me,” Samuel said. “Same confidence, same throws, same ball, same energy, same everything. I don’t think he took a step back. His thumb doesn’t seem to hurt me and he is doing well this week.”
Shanahan didn’t provide many details but said on Friday Garoppolo had “a good week of training when he was there and I feel good where he is now”. Earlier in the week, Shanahan said Garoppolo wouldn’t need to be 100 percent to play against the Rams.
According to Lance, he and Garoppolo split reps with the freshmen during team rehearsals. Garoppolo had a sleeve on his right hand and his thumb with a tape on it in an effort to keep it steady.
There are lingering concerns about how well Garoppolo can hold up over the course of an entire game, especially when it comes to taking under-center shots and any potential blows his thumb might take.
“This is something we have to pay attention to and try not to overdo it,” said attack coordinator Mike McDaniel. “One of the biggest motivating factors for making the decision on Sunday, is whether or not he can handle the ball.”
For Lance, the second week of meaningful shots with the starters worked out. He went 16 of 23 for 249 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for a passer-rated 116.0 in his second start in the NFL last week.
After watching it again, Lance said he felt there were good and bad things, but he learned a lot from every shot. That appears to have served him well in practice this week, with Shanahan saying Lance has been “a little bit better” this week than last.
Which means the Niners and Lance have a little more confidence in the rookie to play if needed and can use Lance outwardly as they did in the early weeks of the season.
“Jamie is back limited this week so it was good for me to still be able to get some reps,” Lance said. “At the same time, working through that with Jimmy was a little bit unique, as we were able to talk through the actors we got together. But I think Kyle did a great job for me personally just because he was able to get ready this week and no He still manages to make some actors not know what’s going to happen with Jimmy on Sunday.”