While the 49ers signing of center Alex Mack didn’t fly under the radar, his presence could reap huge rewards for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in 2021.
It’s a form of chemistry Garoppolo didn’t have last season. Or late in 2019 and into the playoffs that season either. In the wake of former starting center Weston Richburg’s serious knee injury, which ultimately led to him retiring just over a year and a half later, the Niners have been forced to employ a revolving door at the position, both with and without Garoppolo in the lineup.
Now, the hope is the 35-year-old six-time Pro Bowler, Mack, can help Garoppolo get back on track in what could easily be the quarterback’s final year in San Francisco.
“It’s definitely different,” Garoppolo told 95.7 The Game’s Damon, Ratto & Kolsky Show last week. “I’m sure it’s like catching a ball from a different quarterback, everyone’s a little different in how they do it. We’ve only had a couple of days together, but it’s been phenomenal, it really has. He’s an awesome dude, really funny. It’s nice to have a vet that you can lean on a bit.”
Late in 2019 and early in 2020, Garoppolo had reserve center Ben Garland to lean on. And while Garoppolo’s struggles last season had far more to do with his own setbacks, it’s not a reach to suggest Garland wasn’t quite up to par.
Garland remains a free agent, and it doesn’t appear as if the 49ers are interested in bringing him back as a reserve.
Instead, Garoppolo remains more focused on developing a rapport with Mack and learning a few things about the center’s former quarterback with the Atlanta Falcons, Matt Ryan.
“I’ve actually been picking his brain about things that he and Matt Ryan did in Atlanta,” Garoppolo continued. “The guy has been around for a little while, so he’s got some information up there that you can use.”
49ers must get good chemistry between Alex Mack, Jimmy Garoppolo
Garland was nowhere close to the above-average pass protector Garoppolo needs to avoid interior pressure. On top of that, it was pretty clear Garland also lacked in another area so vital and important to Garoppolo and the Niners offense.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan puts an extreme emphasis on his centers, essentially the anchor of his offensive line beyond just the literal statement.
These players are responsible for calling out the protections and identifying would-be blitzers. And in a complex zone-style offense, even more pressure winds up being placed on the shoulders of centers.
Last year, Garoppolo had to deal with a trio of Garland, Hroniss Grasu and intended right guard Daniel Brunskill, lessening the ability to develop any kind of chemistry and clearly enduring a downgrade from a player of Mack’s ilk.
Mack, already having played under Shanahan, both with the Cleveland Browns in 2014 and the Falcons in 2016, is familiar with the system and should have little trouble working with Jimmy G on the integral details that so often go unnoticed by the untrained eye.
And while Garoppolo’s time with San Francisco is limited, as the team prepares and grooms rookie quarterback Trey Lance, at least the pending starter can bank on seeing some noticeable improvement this season because of the upgrade at center with Mack in tow.