Mullens thrown back into the mix for 49ers
Trent Williams, a seventime Pro Bowl offensive tackle, stands 6foot5 and weighs 320 pounds. He’s hard to miss, in other words.
But as Williams quickly learned upon joining the 49ers this year, quarterback Nick Mullens owns extraordinary tunnel vision. So they’ve occasionally passed in the hallway at the team’s Santa Clara headquarters without exchanging a word.
Mullens wasn’t being rude. He was just busy.
“I’ve walked past him a few times and I can see him going over plays in his head — he doesn’t even notice me, doesn’t speak,” Williams said Wednesday. “It’s kind of the same thing I saw in Kirk Cousins a long time ago (in Washington). … As an offensive lineman, you love to see that.”
Mullens is back on the spot
for the 49ers, as their allbutcertain starter Sunday against the New York Giants. Jimmy Garoppolo missed Wednesday’s practice with a sprained ankle, and head coach Kyle Shanahan acknowledged he would be surprised if Garoppolo returns this week.
So, Mullens stands poised to make his first start since Dec. 30, 2018. That seasonending loss to the Los Angeles Rams was the last of Mullen’s eight consecutive starts in ’18, as Garoppolo recovered from a torn ACL.
“Nick’s ready to go,” Shanahan said. “He’s got a lot of playing time with us, in 2018, and that prepared him for moments like this. He always does a good job in practice, and I’m excited to see him get his opportunity.”
Mullens played efficiently in Sunday’s 3113 victory over the Jets (8for11 for 71 yards), after he replaced Garoppolo in the second half. Before that, Mullens hadn’t thrown a regularseason pass since the longago game against the Rams.
He played only seven snaps in 2019, after logging 519 the previous season. Garoppolo’s health and stability during the 49ers’ march to the Super Bowl left Mullens sitting quietly on the sideline, watching and waiting.
That marked a striking contrast to the second half of the ’18 season, when Mullens made a surprising splash. He threw for 262 yards and three touchdowns in a rout of the Raiders, joining Hall of Famers Fran Tarkenton (1961) and Jim Kelly (1986) as the only quarterbacks since 1950 to have 250 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in their NFL debut.
Mullens played solidly in his stint as the starter, with a 64.2 completion percentage, 284.6 yards passing per game and 90.8 passer rating. Then he returned to hibernation … until now, when the 49ers urgently need him to steer the ship while Garoppolo’s ankle heals.
Mullens acknowledged his 2018 success raised the bar, in a sense.
“Now I just have a higher expectation for myself,” he said after Sunday’s game. “That’s what carries me and pushes me. It’s my fourth year. There’s really no excuses to why I shouldn’t perform. And so that’s kind of what has kept pushing me.”
None of this surprises Chip Lindsey, Mullens’ head coach his final two years at Spain Park High in Hoover, Ala., and his offensive coordinator for two years at Southern Miss. Lindsey, now the head coach at Troy University, marveled at Mullens’ toughness in playing through his own sprained ankle in high school.
Mullens didn’t practice for four or five weeks but kept playing well on Friday nights — which Lindsey traced to his young quarterback’s meticulous ways.
“Nick prepares as well as anybody,” Lindsey said Wednesday. “That’s what made him have the success he had two years ago. You’ll see the same kind of planning and preparation. I think it’s welldocumented — he’s the guy you want in case Jimmy G can’t go.”
Mullens’ teammates, similarly, have no doubt he’ll be ready for his latest assignment.
“I’ve built a good relationship with Nick in my short time here,” Williams said. “There’s not a lot of joking around — he’s serious about his craft. We can win with him and we will win with him.”
Nick Mullens, shown at the 49ers’ practice in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., likely will start against the Giants.