Beathard scrambles toward No. 2 role in final preseason win

With a stutter step to the left and a juke to the right, C.J. Beathard left Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett‘s ankles shattered as he sprinted to the right corner of the end zone for a 62-yard rushing touchdown.

Before the quick decision to scramble out of the pocket and finesse his way past the Los Angeles secondary, Beathard was in the midst of his most rookie-like performance of the preseason.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the 49ers locker room at Levi’s Stadium.

In three drives beforehand, the 49ers had been forced to punt twice and settle for a 41-yard field goal despite being the recipient of two early turnovers.

But in a flash of quickness, reminiscent of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Beathard snapped out of his funk and helped lead San Francisco to their first home win of the year, cruising past the Los Angeles Chargers, 23-13.

In a game that wasn’t expected to be very compelling on the surface, the fourth and final week of the preseason began with the 49ers sitting 29 players, including all 22 presumed starters on both sides of the ball.

This group of nearly 30 included the set-in-stone starting quarterback, Brian Hoyer, who put forth a bounce-back effort against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 3. The week prior, Hoyer had a forgettable night to say the least in the 49ers preseason home opener loss.

With Hoyer sporting sweat pants and baseball cap on the sidelines, Beathard, who recently stepped ahead of fellow quarterback Matt Barkley on the depth chart, was given the start as the 49ers signal caller.

But in his first two series as a starter, Beathard saw little to no success, looking like a true rookie.

After inheriting good field position following an Asa Jackson interception on the first drive of the night, the 49ers got their first go offensively.

Beathard opened the series with a bootleg roll where he drifted to the left side of the field to connect with tight end Logan Paulsen for a 12-yard gain. The ensuing three plays, however, would net a grand total of two yards, forcing San Francisco to punt for the first time.

The 49ers pinned the Chargers behind their own 10-yard line on the punt, marking the beginning of a stellar night on special teams, including a Victor Bolden Jr. 92 yard punt return for a touchdown.

Getting the ball back in a hurry following a forced fumble courtesy of Adrien Colbert, Beathard and company set up shop deep inside Chargers territory. But more lackluster offense led to the 49ers settling for a 41-yard field goal.

After another 49ers punt on their next drive, the Charges answered San Francisco’s field goal with three points of their own to tie the game, 3-3.

Beathard commented on the troublesome start to the game:

“Some games don’t go the way you want to at the beginning but you just got to keep plugging away.”

Just as things looked bleak in the already disinteresting preseason closer, Beathard had other plans.

Leaving the pocket in a true scramble situation, Beathard turned on the jets to get deep down field as he reached the Los Angeles secondary. But just when everyone expected him to slide feet-first and settle for the first down, Beathard made a crippling move to drop the pursuing Verrett in embarrassing fashion.

One of the people who wanted Beathard to slide was his head coach, Kyle Shanahan:

“That’s exactly how I drew it up. I was yelling, I probably yelled to get down seven times during the play and it kept going. It was awkward to watch but it was a cool play to see.”

Diving into the end zone, Beathard scored the 49ers’ first touchdown of the game while also showing the San Francisco coaching staff his resiliency and wherewithal — despite his rookie status.

In a clear showing of composure and quick decision-making, Beathard added to his already-growing case for landing the 49ers backup quarterback job once Week 1 of the regular season shows up.

Finishing the evening modestly completing 5-of-9 passes for 31 yards, Beathard led the team rushing with 80 yards on only three first-half attempts.

With the 49ers’ quarterback situation very much up in the air, the question now being asked is whether Beathard could be the answer long term.

After being drafted in the third round out of the University of Iowa, Shanahan voiced his interest and optimism regarding Beathard, saying that he thought Beathard was the “best quarterback in the draft.”

Sitting on a very short-term, 2-year deal with Hoyer, the 49ers will either be tasked with resigning the 31-year-old, or seeking a high-profile free agent like Kirk Cousins.

But there is a third option.

If San Francisco opts to forgo both previously mentioned avenues, Beathard could become the starting quarterback in the next two years, assuming his current rate of progression continues.

The other upside to turning Beathard into a starter would be the impact on the salary cap. Under his current rookie contract, Beathard would cost the 49ers less than $1 million per year to employ.

Without having to deal with the price tag of a marquee signal caller, San Francisco would theoretically be allowed to seek help at other areas of the roster including the offensive line, receiving corp, and secondary.

Which direction the 49ers will choose to go in is anyone’s guess but if they do decide to go with Beathard, at least they know he has the confidence to turn on the burners when need be, and break an ankle or two:

“I have no problem doing it. I’m confident in my feet and everything.”


C.J. Peterson is SFBay’s San Francisco 49ers beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @SFBayCJ on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of 49ers football.