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Jimmy Garoppolo Is Ready to Return to Action

The 49ers quarterback missed most of 2018 with an ACL tear. He talks about his rehabilitation, watching film with Mike Shanahan, what he learned playing behind Tom Brady, and how excited he is to team up with George Kittle.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Jimmy Garoppolo is a fascinating figure. He was a backup to the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, for almost three years with the Patriots, and shined in limited action. In October 2017, he was traded to the 49ers for a second-round pick, and after a scorching six-game run with the Niners, signed one of the most lucrative contracts in NFL history in February 2018. His season ended after he tore his ACL in Week 3, and he’s expected to be fully healthy for the start of the 2019 season for the Niners, who have a lot of questions but a lot of potential. I chatted with Garoppolo this week in Los Angeles during his appearance at the Men’s Wearhouse Suit Drive, which provides professional attire for people re-entering the workplace—Garoppolo donated one of his own suits. We talked about his recovery from ACL surgery; what it was like playing behind Brady; learning from Mike Shanahan, former Broncos coach and father of Niners coach Kyle Shanahan; what he thinks about the league’s offensive innovation; and his favorite character from The Office (he knows it’s cliché).

On Watching Film With Mike Shanahan

When you tear your ACL as early in the season as you did, you have a lot of time to rehab, and there’s a huge mental component to that. There’s so much information you could have taken in about football and the quarterback position over the past 10 months. What did you do?

There were a lot of different ways to do that—film with the coaches, watching film when Kyle’s dad [Mike Shanahan] came in a little bit. He and I got to go through some sessions. You kind of have to be creative because initially you don’t know what to do. I’d never been in that situation before—do I prepare the exact same way, do I just take care of my knee? What do I do? I think there was initially some trial and error, but by the middle of the season, and definitely by the end of the season, I got into a routine. I lost the crutches, and then after that, it was just getting the knee fixed as quickly as possible, and at the same time learning as much about football as possible, and watching as much football as possible. It worked out very well, and I think I took advantage of the opportunity for it to be a blessing in disguise.

So you’re sitting there, just learning about football, watching football, you’ve got Mike Shanahan—what did you learn about the sport in those few months?

I got to see a lot of different offenses and a lot of different defenses. We didn’t just watch our film and our opponents, we would watch a random game in the NFL. It was a great opportunity to see how he thought about the game, and you gain a different perspective to put into your game.

When you’re watching offense with Mike Shanahan—and obviously Kyle has an innovative offense—what offenses stood out to you as innovators?

There were definitely a couple. The Chiefs, obviously, have a tremendous system and tremendous players. You try to find teams that were similar to you—the Saints, the Rams, more our style offenses. What you’re trying to do—and I don’t even know how to put it into words—you’re just watching and trying to gain as much knowledge as you can from those teams. You have so much extra time that you never have during the season. The season is always a time crunch, and now you’re injured, and you’ve got all the time in the world. It was different, but you adapt to it.

On Playing Behind Tom Brady

Everyone who has ever been around Tom Brady seems to learn something about the sport. What specifically did you pick up from being around his preparation that stays with you?

The preparation as a whole was tremendous just to see it, to be in the same room as it, to learn from it. To be a rookie and see that, it was invaluable. I can barely put it into words. What you learn is playing the game within the game, that’s a big part of Tom. I don’t even know if he told me that [directly], but he would always talk about the game within the game. He would talk about the snap count, and he’d say ‘you’re going to go on two on this play’ and he’d have a specific reason. That’s not the coaches telling you, that’s the player playing the game within the game. It’s the little things, the little details and how he ties them all together—that’s what separates you.

On Preparing for the 2019 Season

You’re working with quarterback coach Tom House this offseason. What are you trying to accomplish?

You don’t want to change your entire throwing motion this close to the season, so it’s more about getting into their program, learning how they teach, and maybe everything they teach doesn’t apply. It was a good opportunity to meet some very intelligent minds. I think I’ve learned to use more of my body in the throw instead of just the arm. Getting your legs into the throw—they are real big on that. It’s cool to see different perspectives on how to throw a football. There’s obviously not a perfect way to throw it, everyone has different opinions, and taking all of that knowledge, putting it into your game and becoming the best version of yourself is ultimately as a quarterback what you want to be.

How do you feel?

The rehab has been great. The whole process, the training staff, and all the coaches put together a great plan. It really went well. To participate in [offseason training activities] the way I did and, hopefully, being full-go for training camp, I couldn’t ask for much more coming off an ACL. Knock on wood; we’ll keep it going and stay in a good place.

On Offensive Innovation in the NFL

You came into the league five years ago. Are you shocked by how much offenses have innovated even in those five years?

I wouldn’t say I’m shocked. It’s a copycat league and when one offense has success, every team wants that offense. It’s a continuous cycle, and that’s football. If offenses weren’t progressing like that, I’d be a little worried and defenses would be doing a lot better than us. Coaches are always innovating, especially on the offensive side of the ball. As long as there is innovation, that’s a good thing for offenses and football.

Is there anything defenses can do to stop it?

It’s tough. It really is. It’s tough to be a defensive player or coordinator with the rules and everything else. Hopefully, it’s still an offensive year—I would be more of a fan of that, probably. It’s hard to predict what the season will bring, but there will be a lot of good football.

On His Favorite Character From The Office

What are you watching this offseason?

The Office is always good. That’s not anything new or groundbreaking, but I’ll watch it all the time. I’m old-school with Seinfeld, love Seinfeld. I saw the Avengers, and that was a phenomenal movie.

Favorite Office character?

Hmmmm. I want to say—ahhh, I’ll go with Dwight [Schrute]. I know this is cliché, I know that. But Dwight is in his own world, man.

On George Kittle vs. Gronk

One of your targets is a budding offensive superstar, tight end George Kittle. He’s a huge personality and a great player. What’s your George Kittle story?

George is awesome. He brings the energy every day. He’s so authentic, that’s who George is. He’s himself, and you’ve got to appreciate it, and it makes it enjoyable to be around him. Having him in the locker room is tremendous for us.

Is the comparison to Rob Gronkowski apt, or are they different guys, and different players?

No, no, they are very similar. I had a locker next to Gronk for a number of years; I got to experience that first hand. George is very similar. I think it’s as simple as catching a pass in practice. You think it’s a nothing pass. And all of a sudden the guy is running around like he scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. It’s incredible. Day in and day out, it’s that. It’s contagious.