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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Making the quarterback cut: Josh Rosen may be the 49ers’ best option at QB3

Don Atkinson
Aug 6, 2021 at 3:25 PM--

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With NFL training camps ending and with an abbreviated preseason starting up, tough decisions are approaching quickly for teams all across the league. Within some franchises, the decisions related to the quarterback position are already becoming complicated.

The Indianapolis Colts are now without their starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, for the first third of the season, at minimum. The Texans are still struggling with how to handle the potential absence of their (potentially former) starter Deshaun Watson, whose legal difficulties have turned him into a huge question mark not just in Houston, but for NFL trade partners as well. And in Minnesota, the Vikings must deal with the refusal of Kirk Cousins to submit to Covid vaccination, which places his ongoing availability in serious question.

Meanwhile, in Santa Clara, the 49ers have the luxury of having, at least on paper, two quarterbacks who seem capable of leading the offense to hefty wins.

Jimmy Garoppolo, despite the anticipation many had that he might be awash in negativity when the 49ers drafted his obvious replacement in Trey Lance this past April, has seemed nothing but supportive of Lance's presence in camp. And Garoppolo to some extent appears to welcome the competition for the starting position. He's healthy and looks to be in a good place both physically and mentally during practices thus far.

Lance has looked outstanding in camp, has earned the praise of both coaches and peers, and there is little to suggest he wouldn't be prepared to handle starting duties if they were thrust upon him. Time will tell, of course, as Lance has yet to take a snap in a pro game, but he has opportunities over the next few weeks to prove he's ready.

With the endless, high-frequency buzz surrounding Garoppolo and Lance, it can be easy to forget that the 49ers will still need to make a decision on their third quarterback before the opening day roster is finalized. But decide they must, and as head coach Kyle Shanahan likes the idea of three quarterbacks at the ready, securing that number three spot could carry special importance.

It's not overstating to say the 49ers front office was aggressive in its pursuit of an improved roster from 2020, when the team limped and wheelchaired its way through a 6-10 season. That level of assertiveness wasn't lost in the quarterback room, either, where former 49er backups C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens were effectively sent packing, and Josh Rosen was brought onboard. While Rosen isn't technically a new addition (he was signed during last season but never played), 2021 will be his first crack at making the roster exiting training camp, and his chances aren't looking bad.

The 49ers additionally secured the services of veteran backup Nate Sudfeld from Philadelphia
during the offseason. They gave him guaranteed money to sign, something that almost always
indicates the team expects a player to make the final roster. But a cash hit or not, it wouldn't be a reach to see the team move off of Sudfeld as their number 3 in favor of Rosen, if the latter shows some spark in the coming weeks.

Rosen is an odd case, to be sure. A highly regarded All-American, he smashed single season passing records at UCLA, and was snatched up in the first round of the NFL draft (tenth overall) by the Arizona Cardinals. He got his first NFL start on September 24, 2018 and got the Cards their first win of the season the following week. His third start, a prime-time game against Denver, was a disaster. Rosen fumbled twice and gave up an unheard of three pick sixes in a 45-10 drubbing. Arizona fired its offensive coordinator after that game, and to his credit, Rosen bounced back in a last second, come-from-behind victory the next week.

Ironically, both of Rosen's two wins came against the 49ers.

Rosen finished his rookie season at just 3-10 as a starter but, by all accounts, it was the Cardinals as a team who let Rosen down, and not the other way around. But Arizona finished 3-13 that year, and as is always the case in a 3-win season, some things needed to change, and part of that change ended up being the team moving off of Rosen. The Cards drafted Kyler Murray with the first pick of the 2019 draft, and Rosen was shipped off to Miami for the price of a second rounder that year and a 2020 fifth-round pick.

As a backup to Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, Rosen had a chance to step in and make a run, but just as in Arizona, the team itself was less than up to the task, and Rosen's three starts with Miami ended up being lackluster events. The Dolphins went 0-3 with Rosen starting, and he was benched in Week 6, relegated to the backup role for the remainder of the season.

In the glow of having both a healthy and determined Jimmy Garoppolo and uber-talented rookie Trey
Lance in camp, Rosen seems almost an afterthought for the 49ers. But fate often has a way of blowing up carefully conceived plans and should something happen to either Garoppolo or Lance early on, the importance of that third quarterback could become enormous in an
instant. Should either of them fall to injury, or should Lance supplant Garoppolo to the degree the 49ers would trade Garoppolo away this season, Rosen's potential role as a qualified QB2 becomes paramount.

Rosen could excel in that backup role if fully prepared and well coached. Blessed with a strong arm and proto-typical quarterback size, Rosen has some road-tested skills and is stronger physically than many other quarterbacks playing in the NFL. While not particularly mobile, Rosen makes up for that by maintaining toughness in the pocket – not an insignificant attribute for a backup quarterback.

What's held back Rosen, should you believe the gossip wire of the NFL, isn't his physical skills, but rather his heart and head. Rosen is intelligent, by almost all analysis, but the rap on him to date is about his resistance to learning and alleged flagging drive and commitment. Those things may or may not have been true before, but it's not probable Rosen keeps himself in that same mental mode in the present. Rosen almost certainly knows that if he fails here, he may have seen his chances at any significant role in pro football come to an abrupt halt. He has the added motivation to play for Kyle Shanahan, who historically has had a great touch and a lot of success at getting the best
out of quarterbacks. At just 24, Rosen could still have a healthy starting career ahead if he is able to turn things around this year.

Objectively, Rosen's perceived stubbornness and allegedly wilted work ethic could well have
created the downward trend in his career. But it's just as likely that his lack of opportunity and trying to quarterback from some of the NFL's bottom feeding rosters over his career have stripped him of any sense of enthusiasm about his future.

In the end, however, it's hard to place much blame on Rosen himself for the woes he's had thus far. By all accounts from inside the 49ers' organization, Rosen seems to be doing what is expected of him to prepare, learn and produce and looks invested in his current chances to make the final roster. Whether Nate Sudfeld has anything to say about that remains to be seen. But the public would be ill advised to count out Rosen from the 49ers' plans, both short-term and beyond, just yet. There may be some unexpected surprises there still to discover.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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