Adam L. Jahns’ “Inside the Huddle” column appears in game-day editions of the Chicago Sun-Times.
When NFL teams got excited about Jimmy Garoppolo, the Rolling Meadows High School product, in 2014, it wasn’t because of his eye-popping numbers or all the wins he had over four years as Eastern Illinois’ starting quarterback.
Sure, his success factored into teams’ evaluations. But how he threw the ball enthralled them. It wasn’t his arm strength but his mechanics — his near-perfect fundamentals. They could translate to the NFL.
“Quick processor. Quick-witted,” Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “[Garoppolo] had a compact release. He could get it out quick [and] was accurate.”
Before the 2014 draft, in which the Patriots took Garappolo in the second round, Loggains evaluated Garoppolo as the Browns’ quarterbacks coach. Kyle Shanahan, now the 49ers’ first-year head coach, was the Browns’ offensive coordinator at the time.
“Jimmy was a guy we had a lot of respect for, graded very high,” Loggains said. “It didn’t surprise me that Kyle traded for him to get him in the [49ers] organization, because I know how he felt about him as well. He has a chance to be a really good player.”
Garoppolo should be the better quarterback this Sunday against the Bears and rookie Mitch Trubisky. Yes, he’s making his first start for Shanahan and only the third of his career, whereas Trubisky has made seven starts in a row. But Garoppolo’s 3½ years with the Patriots, along with several years of fine-tuning his fundamentals under private quarterback coach Jeff Christensen, should ease his transition, regardless of how new Shanahan’s offense is for him.
“The game’s gotten excessively fast. Defensive ends off the edge have proven that,” said Christensen, who works with Garoppolo, the Redskins’ Kirk Cousins and the Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill, among others. “The only person who can really keep those defensive windows open and have some space to throw the ball is the quarterback, based on his technique.”
Christensen, who runs Throw it Deep Academy in the western suburbs, has worked with Garoppolo since high school. His focus is on the lower body.
“Ninety percent of a guy being able to throw the ball on time and get the ball out on time quickly is what he’s doing with his feet, knees and hips,” Christensen said. “Your torso and everything above your waist reacts to what you’re doing below the waist.
“It’s ironic because it’s old-school training at the maximum level. But now the game’s gotten quick. A guy that’s got elongations in his throwing motion throws a lot of picks or has a lot of near-misses. And guys that make tight throws in tight windows have great feet and great technique. Jim’s feet are basically perfect. As a result, he can get the ball there quickly and accurately.”
Trubisky’s feet aren’t perfect — and he’ll say so. He admitted his “bad footwork” was a problem in the Bears’ 31-3 loss to the Eagles last Sunday.
“Usually that leads to bad accuracy and then timing,” Trubisky said. “Because of bad footwork and bad timing, it caused a couple throws to be off.”
Trubisky’s mechanics weren’t the only thing that hurt the Bears’ offense. He also wasn’t protected well enough, and receivers ran their routes too short at times, Loggains said. All of it affects the quarterback.
But Loggains stopped short of fully defending Trubisky and said the rookie got “hoppy” at times against the Eagles. Trubisky’s tendency to bounce was an issue at North Carolina.
“There were some throws that were errant because of that,” Loggains said. “[It’s] something we’re going to keep working and grinding on that way.”
The Bears have been changing Trubisky’s footwork since he arrived for rookie minicamp in May. And Trubisky, who shares an agent with Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, knows how better mechanics can lead to success. After issues in his rookie season, Wentz worked with quarterbacks coach Adam Dedeaux of 3DQB in the offseason. Wentz now goes through an elaborate pre-game routine every week.
Trubisky promised to spend extra time on his fundamentals before playing the 49ers. It would help to closely watch Garoppolo on Sunday, too.
“You’ve just got to fix [your footwork],” Trubisky said, “and I will.”
@Markitan8dude: Is general manager Ryan Pace showing a pattern of falling in love with physical gifts but a limited track record (Kevin White, Leonard Floyd, Mitch Trubisky)? Do you think he thinks he’s outsmarting everyone else?
A: Pace thinks he’s drafting the best player on his board. But I understand your concerns. First, the physical gifts are part of the evaluation. So, yes, Pace has shown a tendency to go after special athletes in the first round of the draft, whereas his selections of defensive lineman Eddie Goldman and center Cody Whitehair in the second round appear to be safer decisions based on their college careers. But teams also have to project which players will become stars in the NFL. You don’t simply choose them based on their college track records. Look at all the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks — Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Troy Smith and so on — who haven’t panned out in the NFL.
@JakeP1333: Who should the Bears go for at wide receiver this offseason?
A: The question is, who shouldn’t the Bears go for at wide receiver? Alshon Jeffery signed a four-year, $52 million extension with the Eagles on Saturday. At this point, it’s unclear who else will be available. Packers receiver Davante Adams might be an option. The Dolphins’ Jarvis Landry could have plenty of suitors, too. The Bears have tried to add a vertical speed threat during the last two offseasons, and it’ll likely be a priority again; Markus Wheaton was signed to provide it this season but has been disappointing. First and foremost, the Bears need to re-sign Cam Meredith — who’ll be returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament — to a new contract. Dontrelle Inman also should get another look.
Starting with the Bears’ trade-up for quarterback Mitch Trubisky at No. 2 overall, the 49ers made six moves in the NFL draft in April, resulting in a widely praised 10-player class. Everyone seemed to love what general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan did in their first draft together.
It started with their selection of Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas with the Bears’ original No. 3 selection. Thomas was the best player on the 49ers’ board after outside linebacker Myles Garrett and would have been their pick at No. 2 if the Bears hadn’t moved up.
Bears coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio were also fond of Thomas, and if Trubisky hadn’t been an option, Thomas and safety Jamal Adams were the best players on the Bears’ board after Garrett.
“Good athlete, good quickness, played hard, had some versatility,” Fangio said of Thomas.
Still, Thomas hasn’t exactly changed the 49ers this season. They’re 28th in total defense and 30th against the run. Thomas has two sacks and eight tackles for loss in nine starts.
His best game came in Week 6 against the Redskins, when he had nine tackles and a sack. He missed back-to-back games against the Cardinals and Giants (the 49ers’ only win this season) because of a sprained knee.
In general, he hasn’t been the immediate contributor many thought he would be, though he should improve over time — as should Trubisky.
While we’re on the subject of the draft, it’s worth noting what’s happening with Giants cornerback Eli Apple, the 10th overall pick in 2016. The Bears swapped picks with the Buccaneers in the first round of that draft, leapfrogging the Giants to take outside linebacker Leonard Floyd at No. 9 overall. The Giants had coveted Floyd, as well as offensive tackle Jack Conklin, whom the Texans selected at No. 8. Because of the Bears’ move, the Giants scrambled and selected Apple, who has since become a controversial figure.
In Week 5 against the Chargers this season, he was benched for three series, reportedly for his conduct in practice and an exchange with an assistant coach. After a loss to the 49ers in Week 10, he was heavily critiqued during the team’s film review and nearly walked out because of it, according to the New York Post.
For the last two weeks, Apple has been inactive after being excused from practices to be with his mother, who underwent brain surgery. He’s expected to play Sunday against the Raiders.
Meanwhile, Floyd is on injured reserve with torn ligaments in his right knee. But he’s still evidence that it’s smarter for teams to be bold and go after the players they want rather than wait for players to fall to them in the draft.
Follow me on Twitter @adamjahns.