C.J. Beathard will make the first NFL start of his career Sunday when his 49ers host the Dallas Cowboys. That much is known. What isn’t known is how long Beathard will remain San Francisco’s starting quarterback.
The rookie, coming off a promising relief appearance last week when he took over for an ineffctive Brian Hoyer, could be the next franchise quarterback. Or, he could simply be a temporary solution to a longtime problem. The Beathard Era could be one game or multiple seasons.
While Beathard said this week he’s focused solely on the Cowboys and not worried about his long-term future with the team, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan says he’s very much interested in seeing what the former Iowa Hawkeye can do over the rest of 2017. With a 10-game sample size, Shanahan, general manager John Lynch and the rest of the leadership group of an 0-6 team will know if they should invest in Beathard as a viable quarterback-of-the-future, or look elsewhere.
When Shanahan was asked Wednesday how much Beathard’s performance over these final 10 games will factor into his future, he was blunt, reported Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com.
“A ton,” Shanahan said.
In last week’s debut performance against Washington, Beathard was 19-of-36 passing for 245 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and he also had one 14-yard scramble. He threw downfield with more effectiveness than Hoyer had this season, and showed some pocket presence, buying time against the rush. But he also missed some open throws and was ineffective against heavy pressure – meaning the Cowboys may make it part of their plan to blitz him early and often Sunday.
Shanahan said he was “excited” by Beathard’s play and believes he’s earned his teammates' respect. Plus, his former Iowa teammate, starting rookie tight end George Kittle, says Beathard projects leadership.
“That’s just what he does,” said Kittle.
That trait – if demonstrated again Sunday vs. Dallas and for the remainder of the season – could be a key factor in determining if Beathard will go into 2018 as the starter. Shanahan said in order to win that job, Beathard will have to show the ability “to lead us to where we want to go.”
Added Shanahan, of what he wants to see from Beathard: “You have to show the ability that you can build things around a person who gives you the chance no matter what type of defense you go up against, that he’s got the ability to make those throws, he’s got the ability to make some off-schedule plays and he’s the type of person who can handle all the stuff that goes with it.”
The 2-3 Cowboys may be vulnerable, too. Dallas ranks 21st in the NFL in total defense, giving up 339.8 yards per game and has allowed 26.4 points per game, tied for fourth most in the league.
Still, oddsmakers don’t yet believe in Beathard or the winless 49ers. They’ve made the Cowboys six-point favorites Sunday. Kickoff is set for 1:05 p.m. at Levi’s Stadium.