Chargers vs. 49ers: Thursday’s preseason finale key for C.J. Beathard

CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 30: Quarterback C.J. Beathard #3 of the San Francisco 49ers walks around the field after the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at StubHub Center on September 30, 2018 in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 30: Quarterback C.J. Beathard #3 of the San Francisco 49ers walks around the field after the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at StubHub Center on September 30, 2018 in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers close out the preseason by hosting the Los Angeles Chargers Thursday night. This game means a lot for fringe players trying to make the roster, but there is one more player whose performance could shake things up quite a bit: C.J. Beathard.

During his press conference leading up to Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Los Angeles Chargers, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan steered the conversation toward his current crop of quarterbacks.

“We have three very good quarterbacks,” Shanahan said. “We plan on having three this year. But just like every other person on our roster, if someone thinks there’s a way to upgrade our team, we’ll always listen.

“We’re not ever going to just get rid of NFL players. And I know we have three NFL quarterbacks who can help us.”

This falls in line with what Shanahan has been saying all throughout training camp and preseason, where the coach has been noted as saying that neither of his backup options was outplaying the other, and that the decision between quarterbacks Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard wouldn’t be made “until I absolutely have to, and that probably won’t be until the final 53.”

This issue, of course, has been a hot button for 49ers fans and pundits alike, ever since Mullens came out of nowhere to play reasonably well in 2018, coming on after starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo‘s ACL injury and Beathard injured his wrist.

Mullens went on to set several records for an NFL debut in the 49ers’ 34-3 shellacking of the Oakland Raiders, and went on to start the rest of the season, leading the team to a 3-5 record in his eight starts.

And yet Shanahan was adamant that the race was close, even if his actions — such as starting Mullens for the preseason opener against Dallas, or granting him the entire second half in Week 3 against Kansas City — appear to contradict that.

Not to mention the eye test, which suggests Mullens has been more on time with his throws, more decisive and more confident in the pocket, and that Beathard, while flashing at times, often looks more uncertain and skittish.

There’s little question Beathard is the better athlete and possesses the stronger arm, traits which drew Shanahan to the former Iowa Hawkeye in the first place. But those attributes aren’t worth much without more consistency with what’s going on between his ears. And while Mullens hasn’t been perfect in that regard, and in fact looked like he took a while to grow into the game on Saturday, he’s been noticeably better than Beathard.

And so it brings us to this preseason finale, where both quarterbacks look set to get large chunks of playing time, now that Garoppolo finally appears ready to start the regular season. As previously mentioned, Beathard’s absence on Saturday was telling, but the expectation is that he’ll get the start when the Chargers come to Santa Clara on Thursday.

How much time he gets on the field could indicate where Shanahan’s thoughts are at this point in the decision-making process, but there’s no doubt that this preseason finale will be an important one for Beathard.

His performance during the game could have major implications, not only for this year, but beyond. Even if the 49ers end up keeping three quarterbacks has Shanahan alluded to, there will still be one who is the backup and will be active on game days, while the other will be the third quarterback who’ll only see the field if something happens to Garoppolo and the backup.

This means Beathard is still fighting for that position, even if he’s not still pushing to stay on the roster.

Alternatively, if Shanahan is merely bluffing about the three-quarterback scenario, trying to get quarterback starved teams — like maybe the Indianapolis Colts, now that Andrew Luck has retired — to make an enticing offer for Beathard. Then Thursday night becomes a showcase for the former third-round draft pick to prove what he’s capable of to other teams.

Either way, Beathard will want to be at his best against a Chargers defense which will likely feature other players who are pushing for playing time or a roster spot. Everyone on the field should be motivated to excel, not just Beathard, meaning this won’t be easy for the quarterback.

Next. Kyle Shanahan is trying to light a fire under 49ers WR Dante Pettis. dark

He’ll need to dominate the supposedly lesser competition in order to catch the attention of those who are watching, be it Shanahan or any interested outside general managers or coaches.