Mul­lens thrown back into the mix for 49ers

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - Sporting Green - By Ron Kroichick

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.”

Ter­rell Lloyd / San Fran­cisco 49ers

Nick Mul­lens, shown at the 49ers’ prac­tice in White Sul­phur Springs, W.Va., likely will start against the Gi­ants.

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