SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- When San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan benched veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer for C.J. Beathard on Sunday, it would have been normal for the rookie to come in with plenty of butterflies and nerves.
Except, when Beathard entered the game with a little more than six and a half minutes left in the second quarter, he never showed any signs of any of those things, even if he was feeling them.
"He was cool, calm and collected like he'd been out there before," running back Carlos Hyde said. "[He] went out there, went through his reads and did exactly what he's supposed to do."
Others who were in the game for Beathard's first meaningful NFL snaps, such as receiver Pierre Garcon, left tackle Joe Staley, guard Brandon Fusco and even Hoyer, echoed that sentiment.
Beathard finished the 26-24 loss 19-of-36 for 245 yards with a touchdown and an interception for a passer rating of 72.1 and a total QBR of 57.6. And those numbers were even a bit skewed in a negative direction because of the desperation heave he threw for an interception that could have been avoided. Before the pick, Beathard's passer rating was about 20 points higher.
Despite all of that, Shanahan is always the first to point out the need to see the game film before rendering any sort of verdict on a player's performance.
"I was excited with how he played," Shanahan said. "Pretty much the same stuff I said last night. My opinion didn't really change. By no means was he perfect. He missed a couple things, but that always happens. I thought he came in there, didn't hesitate, competed, the moment was not too big for him. Made a few plays in rhythm. Made a few off-schedule plays and that was a big reason we got back in that game."
After the game, Shanahan said he entered the week with an eye toward potentially making a change at quarterback if Hoyer continued to struggle. Hoyer, who had not thrown a touchdown pass in any of the first three quarters in a game this season, got off to another slow start and Shanahan decided the time was right.
It wasn't just Hoyer's struggles that set the stage for Beathard to make his debut. Shanahan had said in previous weeks that he was going to keep an open mind to changes at any position if someone was doing something to earn additional time.
According to Shanahan, Beathard had clearly made strides, not just from where he was after the draft in April or even in training camp, but through the first six weeks of the season.
Given limited reps with the first-team offense as a backup quarterback, Shanahan kept a close eye on what Beathard did with his scout-team reps. On those snaps, the quarterback gets a card with a play on it. The play is somewhere in Shanahan's playbook, though it isn't necessarily in Niners' verbiage. Despite this disadvantage, Shanahan said he was impressed with how Beathard took in something quickly, understood it and then translated it to the field in short order.
"Just to watch him run a card, visualize how we're going it, to see where he goes with the ball, not only how he's throwing but how he goes through his progressions and handles the defensive coverage and things like that," Shanahan said. "As you do with all rookies, you hope the more reps they get, the better they get and I feel like he's been showing that through these weeks in practice."
That Beathard seems to be wise beyond his years for a rookie quarterback isn't much of a surprise. One of the primary reasons Shanahan hand-picked Beathard as the quarterback he wanted in this year's draft was his experience playing in a pro-style scheme at Iowa. The goal since his arrival has been to take that foundation of knowledge and build off of it.
Combined with a work ethic that seems to run in his famous football family, Shanahan has seen Beathard develop rapidly.
"He is a gym rat," Shanahan said. "He doesn't do it to impress you. He does it because he enjoys it. He's pretty passionate about football. It's very important to him. I think it's similar with a lot of people. He's grown up around football his whole life. He's had a lot of family members in it. And that doesn't mean that everyone is like that, but you can tell he's a guy who has been around football forever and it's extremely important to him and you can tell he carries his, the way he carries himself, that's important to him in every aspect of his life."
On Monday, Shanahan again confirmed Beathard will remain the starter moving forward. Clearly, Beathard is still just getting started. He will have some ups and downs as he goes but Shanahan also believes Beathard can offer a couple of elements that Hoyer might not bring to the table. Namely, Beathard has more mobility and can use that to make more off-schedule plays.
That doesn't mean Beathard will be running a healthy dose of zone read plays but it does open up a few more options as Shanahan designs game plans and searches for defensive weaknesses.
"He's got the ability," Shanahan said. "He's got the toughness. Each game will be different. You know, when you talk about where a guy has got to improve, you don't say they need to learn how to throw it better or they need to learn how to get bigger or faster. That's usually the stuff that you have by the time you get to this level.
"It's about playing in the game and reacting to defenses, reacting to coverages, reacting to adjustments. He's going to see a lot of things he hasn't seen before and that will change each week. That’ll probably change each quarter. It's really how does a guy handle that stuff? I've seen a lot of guys come in and struggle early and learn from it and end up becoming pretty good. I've seen guys come in and play very well right away, and things change and they don't adjust that well. So you're never going to get a quick answer. You see over time. But he's got the ability to do it. I think he's got the mental toughness to do it. I think he will get better the more he plays."