SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- For some, the San Francisco 49ers' five-year, $47.5 million investment in wide receiver Pierre Garcon raised eyebrows. It was one of the first contracts handed out during free agency and, with Garcon turning 31 soon, some wondered if the 49ers would get a worthwhile return for the price.
Of course, the Niners had no qualms about spending that money, because coach Kyle Shanahan knew exactly what he'd be getting from Garcon and that it would be imperative to have him as the team begins building the culture of toughness Shanahan wants.
More than a week into Shanahan's first training camp as head coach, Garcon has been exactly as advertised.
"That's why I like Pierre," Shanahan said. "You can count on him -- you know what you're going to get. I mean, no matter what kind of mood Pierre is in or what's going on, you know when that ball snaps and the football is in the air, Pierre is going to do whatever he can to go for it. He's going to compete as hard as anyone. The game's not too big for him and he's going to fight you. ... Anytime you have receivers with that type of mentality, I think it really adds to the mentality of your whole offense."
Upon signing, Garcon instantly became the 49ers' best and most accomplished receiver. He has two 1,000-yard receiving seasons over the past four years, equal to the number posted by all 49ers pass-catchers in that time (Anquan Boldin did it in 2013 and 2014). He also has three 70-plus catch seasons, which is one more than all Niners receivers managed in that span.
Even with another birthday looming Tuesday, Garcon still looks to clearly be the most polished wideout on the roster. He's already developed a strong rapport with starting quarterback Brian Hoyer, and Garcon's willingness to attack the middle of the field has made him an easy target in team drills, especially on third down. That hard-charging attitude has long been a staple of Garcon's career.
"I think that's part of Pierre's game, and he knows it too," Hoyer said. "That's why he's a tough, big, physical receiver. The good thing about Pierre is he does come through there hard. We've hit a few in-cuts these past few days. One of them that he's come roaring through there in the middle and he catches and he takes off for a 60-yard touchdown because of the speed that he comes in there with, and I think that's part of his game."
While Hoyer and Garcon have not played together before, each has played for Shanahan, making them two of the few who had experience in the scheme when they arrived in San Francisco. That has helped them get on the same page right away.
"Basically to make our job easier, the receiver and the quarterback have got to see the same thing to be able to be in the spot we need to be because defenses move all over all the time and if we're on the same page, it doesn't matter what they do," Garcon said. "It's developing well because now we are repeating the offense and going through different looks and we're seeing situations so if it does happen we have already been through it and know what each other's thinking if it comes up again."
Garcon, who ranks 20th in the NFL since 2013 in receiving first downs, has also served as a mentor and sounding board for the 49ers' young wideouts. That was another reason Shanahan wanted to sign him in the offseason.
Rookie Trent Taylor has marveled at Garcon's workmanlike approach and fierce competitiveness in practice. He has made it a point to seek out Garcon's advice and closely study him in practice.
"I've learned a lot," Taylor said. "Pierre, he's a great athlete, it's fun to watch him in practice. The way he can get off the ball and make plays down the field, it's impressive and you can see why he's been in the league for so long and been so successful. Just little things like him getting off the ball and his ball skills and the way he can track a ball, there's a lot you can learn from him. His route running and just talking to him, there's a lot you can learn from that guy."
Garcon continues his own learning process. He was excited about the chance to continue working with his former offensive coordinator with the Washington Redskins. Garcon points to Shanahan's background as a receiver in noting how detailed he is when working with that position group.
"I enjoy playing for Kyle because Kyle used to play receiver so he kind of enjoys the way I play and I enjoy the way he coaches because he gives us a lot of information and detail that make us successful, "Garcon said, "so I embrace what he tells us and try to give my best effort every time I go out there and play."
Which is exactly what Shanahan and the Niners wanted when they signed him.
"Kyle has a vision," Hoyer said. "There's a vision for each player and to have a player that is ... he had a vision for Pierre to be in this offense for that reason because we do have routes that come across the middle and we know that a guy like Pierre is going to come through there and not have any fear, catch the ball, break a tackle and go to the house. He's been that way since he got in the league.
"He's a fearless receiver and as a quarterback you love that because you know that you can give the ball to him in the middle. He's going to catch it, protect it and take a hit and sometimes even break it and go for the distance."