SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- As the horn blares three times signaling the end of a San Francisco 49ers training camp practice, the team's players and coaches continue with their daily routine. Some walk over to spend time signing autographs and taking pictures with the fans in attendance. Some head straight to the tent that's offering them recovery drinks. Others immediately go to the locker room to begin cooling down following another grueling day on the field.
In the midst of it all, Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo goes nowhere.
The franchise signal-caller will make time to do all of that other stuff. For now, his focus is on doing everything possible to prove he's worth every penny of the five-year, $137.5 million contract he signed in February. So it is that his post-practice regiment consists of, well, more practice.
"I like to (stay after)," Garoppolo said. "It's kind of what separates you, I guess. Everyone's putting in the same amount of practice time but whoever stays after, you're getting a little extra work in."
While Garoppolo doesn't want to run his teammates into the ground, he's also attempting to help set a meaningful standard that will carry over into the season. With the 26-year-old set for his first preseason game as the 49ers starting quarterback Thursday night and, soon enough, his first regular season as a full-time starter, he's doing all he can to prove the five-game charge he led down the stretch last season was no fluke.
In fact, while Garoppolo will continue to get questions about his small sample of playing time until he plays enough games to spark a different set of queries, the Niners genuinely believe that Garoppolo is just getting started with a full offseason of coach Kyle Shanahan's offense under his belt.
“He’s still coming along with that," Shanahan said. "I think he’ll be even better next year. This is his first training camp. I know we’ve thrown everything at him and it’s the second time going through it because the first time was OTAs.”
For now, Garoppolo is embracing the chance to learn all the nuances of Shanahan's scheme, an offense often described by his players as complex, for the first time. After Garoppolo arrived in San Francisco following the Halloween trade with the New England Patriots, there was no time for him to dive in to Shanahan's playbook.
Instead, Garoppolo was being fed bits and pieces of that playbook via weekly game plans. Without a chance to grasp the ins and outs of the offense, Garoppolo's primary objective was to know just enough every week to get by. Aside from a bye week spent with Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello, Garoppolo's exposure to the scheme was surface level at best.
In the spring, Garoppolo took it upon himself to organize throwing sessions with his pass-catchers. He did it again during summer down time. In this camp, Garoppolo has had a chance to not only develop rapport with his teammates, but also to get an understanding of the "whys" of Shanahan's playcalling.
All of that has allowed Garoppolo to get more detailed in everything he does. For example, when he watches film, Garoppolo looks closer at how his receivers run routes. Some might be quicker out of a break or have the ability to stop more suddenly than others, so Garoppolo makes notes and offers tips on in-play adjustments.
“You know how (another player’s) body works on the field from watching him on tape and everything,” Garappolo said. “You kind of get on the same page and you learn what guys can and can’t do and play to their strengths.”
Despite all of the praise Garoppolo has received and the hype his strong finish to last season has brought for the team, there are still questions about whether he can succeed over of a full season. One of the more popular theories is while Garoppolo is getting a chance to learn more about Shanahan's offense, opposing teams are getting that same amount of time to figure out how to slow him down.
As you'd expect, that's a theory to which Shanahan doesn't necessarily subscribe. As the coordinator of the Washington Redskins, Shanahan designed an offense around Robert Griffin III. That scheme was considered a bit of a gimmick because it played so strongly off Griffin's ability to run. Sure enough, Griffin had a dynamic rookie season but struggled to become the type of pocket-passer who could sustain success.
In Garoppolo, Shanahan sees the basic fundamental pocket passing abilities that can work for the long haul.
“Jimmy’s capable of making any type of throw,” Shanahan said. “He sees the field very well. It’s not like they’re going to learn how to stop him from running with the ball and then stop him from throwing it. Jimmy has a very talented arm. He knows how to play in the pocket. Hopefully we can continue to get guys here to separate, help get people open in zone and give him time to go through progressions and give him a running game not to put all the pressure on him. Eliminate turnovers. Play defense. When it’s like that, if the guy has the ability to do it usually they do.”
The 49ers are set to open the preseason Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys. Despite his overall lack of playing time, Garoppolo will follow a familiar preseason pattern for starting quarterbacks. He's expected to play a series or two against the Cowboys then a little bit more against the Houston Texans next week. He'll likely play the entire first half in game three against the Indianapolis Colts before sitting out the preseason finale.
The Niners' hope is Garoppolo will continue to hone his skills in areas that thus far have taken some time to develop. Completing deep passes is at the top of that list and though it's been better of late, Garoppolo has acknowledged that's usually one of the last things to come.
And Shanahan won't hesitate to continue to find ways to challenge Garoppolo as he gets more comfortable in his offense.
“It’s always something different each day," Shanahan said. "There’s lots of things Jimmy needs to work on. There’s lots of things we’re all working on right now.”
Before, during and after practice.