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Jimmy Garoppolo's 'unique' personality has 49ers eager for what's next

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- From the moment quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo officially became a member of the San Francisco 49ers on Halloween, quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello has spent more time with him than anyone. Scangarello's job was to teach Garoppolo everything he possibly could in a short period of time.

Well, almost everything. While Scangarello and Garoppolo spent hours together working on the X's and O's of coach Kyle Shanahan's offense, diving into the depths of the playbook and working through new terminology, one thing Scangarello couldn't do was help Garoppolo ingratiate himself into the Niners' locker room.

That's something Garoppolo did on his own and, based on how his teammates rave about him and the accompanying on-field results, he did it just as well as he did everything else over the season's final two months.

"I think every quarterback has their own style for leadership and he's just a naturally positive, energetic individual," Scangarello said. "He was probably born with that gift and people gravitate to him. It's an exciting thing and great to have. You like to have that in your quarterback and I think the players feel that, the coaches feel it and the organization feels it."

To be sure, Garoppolo's physical talents were readily apparent over the season's final five weeks. He led the Niners to five consecutive wins to close the season, setting franchise records for passing yards by a starter in his first five starts. He calmly led the Niners on game-winning drives against Tennessee and Chicago and directed scoring drives to help put away victories against Houston and Jacksonville.

After the team's comeback win against the Titans in which Garoppolo quickly marched the Niners into range for the game-winning field goal, NFL Films released footage of Garoppolo wearing a microphone. It offered some insight into his personality and revealed a player unfazed by pressure-packed moments but also someone willing to wear his emotions on his sleeve.

That's a difficult balance, but it's in that ability that Garoppolo has quickly endeared himself to teammates.

"I've been around for a long time and I think Jimmy is really special at what he does," left tackle Joe Staley said. "He's so unique, too, as a personality. He's very, very intense, very fiery but also very, very calm. It's pretty unique to have both traits and something you want as a quarterback, too, a guy who is super competitive like that but also kind of gives a calmness about him in the huddle. No situation is too big and [I'm] just excited to build this team with him."

That was the prevailing sentiment in the 49ers' locker room at the end of the season. It's why fullback Kyle Juszczyk advocated "maxing out" Garoppolo on his upcoming contract negotiations and why teammates were already set to join Garoppolo on a quick postseason trip to Las Vegas.

Garoppolo also made all the right moves upon his arrival. Although he had a tough task in learning the offense in short order, he found time to connect with all of his teammates. Those who knew him in New England spoke highly of his natural charisma and ability to identify with players of all backgrounds.

And even though Garoppolo wasn't around long, he rewarded his offensive linemen with Bose headphones and speakers as a Christmas gift.

Even as Garoppolo's profile rose around the league over the final month, teammates were also impressed by his ability to block out all the praise, the weekly awards and the constantly building hype.

"I think he's done that very well, tuned it all out," center Daniel Kilgore said. "He's a pro. He knows how to win. He's a guy who doesn't get too high or too low. He comes to work every day, still learning the offense, still learning the terminology or verbiage out on the field but he's still a leader. I don't think all the success is getting to him. I don't think he's that guy, which is great to see and he’s got the right mindset, he's a great competitor. He's handled it very well."

Garoppolo was also able to fit in right away because he walked into a locker room that hadn't fractured despite an abysmal start. The Niners were 0-8 when they traded for Garoppolo, including a streak of five consecutive losses by three points or fewer. In many situations, that might have made it tough on any player walking into the mix, let alone one who would be viewed as a potential franchise-saving quarterback.

That's not what Garoppolo found, though.

"To be honest, when I first got here, I didn't think they had a losing mentality," Garoppolo said. "Honestly, we came into work every day, it was a positive attitude, guys were grinding and that kind of gave me some hope when I first got here. These guys don't look at themselves as an 0-9 team or whatever they were. But I think it was just the atmosphere in the locker room. Great group of guys coming together and great things came from it, so it's a blessing that I came here and good things are happening."

Now that the Niners and Garoppolo have gone through a little bit of time together, there's still much proving to do. All parties seem aware that expectations for 2018 have been raised considerably but with a coach in Shanahan and a quarterback in Garoppolo who seem to be as steady as they come, there's a belief that those expectations won't change the team's approach.

“He seems the same every day," Shanahan said. "I think that's the key to everything. You find out a lot about people through adversity, but you also do through success. We've had some the last few weeks, got a lot of attention, way too much probably, but we've been happy with how we’ve been playing and that'll leave us excited going into next year."