49ers say let the Garoppolo show begin

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) before the game against the Los Angeles Chargers.Photo: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Don't believe what the record book might indicate. The Jimmy Garoppolo Era begins Sunday in Minneapolis.

Oh, some things look the same as when Garoppolo led the San Francisco 49ers to 5-0 finish in 2017 to a season that at one point appeared headed for 0-16.

A dependable kicker. A developing star at wide receiver. A defensive line littered with first-round picks. A big question mark at middle linebacker. Even bigger problems at running back.

And most important, the same head coach who took Garoppolo to the head of the class with just a crash course last season.

But some things have changed, including a first truly meaningful game when the 49ers go on the road to duel a defending division champion, the Minnesota Vikings.

With a healthy possession receiver. A revamped offensive line. And a potential difference-maker in the defensive secondary.

Make no mistake, this isn't the same team that finished 2017 with the longest winning streak in the league. Yes, even longer than the champion Philadelphia Eagles.

Minutes after completing a 1-3 preseason, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke about how excited he was to get the regular season going.

The goal: No, not to beat the Vikings. Rather, to show improvement from week to week, as he felt the club had late last season.

"Everyone would always like more to practice," he insisted, already warning observers not to read too much into the first game. "But, also, the more you go, it's harder to keep people healthy. It's just a very fine line in football, on how to prepare for it and get ready for this grueling season that will be long."

The 49ers were among the teams taking the most damaging hit in the preseason when running back Jerick McKinnon suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice. The club had to visit the scrap heap (Alfred Morris) to find a replacement, who at least was with the team in training camp.

So there's another thing that hasn't changed since the regular-season finale last New Year's Eve.

Forget the signings, the draft choices, the returning injured players. Once again, it's Jimmy Garoppolo against The World.