Nick Mullens will miss the rest of the season with a serious elbow injury, moving third-stringer C.J. Beathard into a starting role for the final two games and sending the San Francisco 49ers on desperate search for a backup.
Mullens got hurt late in Sunday’s loss at Dallas and coach Kyle Shanahan said he will likely need reconstructive surgery on his throwing elbow.
Starter Jimmy Garoppolo has been cleared to return to practice from an ankle injury that has sidelined him the past six games, but won’t be ready to play Saturday night against Arizona. Backup Josh Johnson was placed on the COVID-19 list Tuesday, leaving Beathard as the only available quarterback.
Shanahan said he doesn’t expect Garoppolo to be cleared to play this week.
“I’d be very surprised if that happens,” he said. “Right now, he’s safe to go out to practice, which we’re only having to walkthrough today. It’ll be fun for him to throw the ball around a little bit tomorrow. We’re going to be very safe with him this week and we’ll see next week. But I would be very surprised if that changes.”
With players not currently on an NFL roster and in the coronavirus testing protocol needing six days of clean tests to be eligible to play, the only option for a backup was to sign someone off another team's practice squad.
The Niners are planning to sign 2018 No. 10 overall pick Josh Rosen off Tampa Bay's practice squad. Rosen terminated his contract with Tampa Bay on Tuesday and is set to join the 49ers on Wednesday. ESPN first reported the deal.
Rosen is joining his fourth organization since being picked by Arizona. He has won three of 13 starts with the Cardinals and Miami with a 63.5 passer rating.
The Niners also will be without running back Raheem Mostert (ankle) and receiver Deebo Samuel (hamstring) for the final two games, but could get 2019 All-Pro tight end George Kittle back in the fold.
Kittle has been out since breaking his foot Nov. 1. Kittle returned to practice last week and is on target to play this week even though the Niners have been eliminated from playoff contention.
“If he’s healthy, I just don’t see the reason why not to,” Shanahan said. “It’s the same as every other player on our roster, if you’re healthy and you’re not risking something. We would never ask to play injured or anything like that, but he had a good week of practice last week.”
Beathard has played only sparingly as a backup the past two seasons after starting 10 games his first two years in the NFL. Beathard won just one of those starts and has a 77.2 career passer rating with 14 TD passes and 13 interceptions.
It’s been a difficult stretch for Beathard, whose brother Clayton was killed last December outside of a bar in Nashville.
Beathard has completed 28 of 45 passes for 332 yards and two TDs this season in mop-up duty.
“I’m excited to see what he can do with the full week of practice and a full week of preparation,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “I have all the confidence in the world in C.J. I feel like he is in a kind of an unfair way gets judged about what he did his first and second year in the league. It’s been a while since he’s had a chance to be that starting quarterback and have time to prepare. I think he’s a different player now.”
NOTES: CB Richard Sherman has a sore calf and might not be able to play this week. Sherman missed nine games this season with a calf injury. ... DT Javon Kinlaw (knee) and S Tarvarius Moore (knee) are day to day and S Jimmie Ward is in concussion protocol. ... WR Richie James Jr. (ankle) and OL Hroniss Grasu (knee) were limited at practice.
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