The Giants’ Dalvin Tomlinson and Landon Collins both played against Nick Mullens in college, but it didn’t occur to either former Alabama standout that Monday night’s San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback was a player they'd faced before.
What Tomlinson does recall vividly from Alabama’s 52-12 win over Southern Miss on Sept. 13, 2014, is Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban chewing out the defensive tackle for failing to rip the ball out of Mullens’ hands on a potential sack fumble.
“I really don’t remember too much about it,” the Giants' Tomlinson said Friday. “From what I remember, he was a good quarterback. But Saban chewed me out that game. I almost had a sack fumble that game, and [Mullens] held onto the ball and he actually gained a yard.
“Saban, he wants the best out of all his players,” Tomlinson said with a smile. “And when he sees an opportunity for something and it’s not seized, he wants you to do a little bit better.”
Collins, meanwhile, led Alabama with 12 tackles that day against Southern Miss, but when asked Thursday what he knew of Mullens, Collins at first said: “Not much honestly.”
Once he realized Mullens had quarterbacked the Golden Eagles against Collins’ Crimson Tide four years ago, Collins did recall two noteworthy traits:
“He always got the ball out quick,” Collins said Friday, adding with swagger: “He was playing against a good defense in college, so I would do the same. But at the time, he had a great arm. He showed a great arm.”
The Giants (1-7) will need to knock Mullens, 23, an unlikely recent hero for the 2-7 Niners, off his pedestal if they hope to win coming out of their Week 9 bye.
The Niners’ third-string quarterback completed 16 of 22 passes (72.7 percent) in his NFL debut last week for 262 yards and three touchdowns.
And while he did it against the tanking Oakland Raiders, the Giants are showing him the same kind of respect they would to Niners blue-chipper Jimmy Garoppolo (out for season with a torn ACL) or even to second-stringer C.J. Beathard (out with a wrist injury), who beat Eli Manning head-to-head on this same field last year.
Part of the reason is that Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan is calling the plays, and the Giants don’t see a truncated form of Shanahan’s typical offense just because Mullens is under center.
“They’re running a lot of their offense,” Giants DBs coach Lou Anarumo said Saturday. “It’s not like it’s that cut down or scaled down. I’m seeing a lot of what he’s done over Kyle’s career, to be honest.”
Another reason is that Mullens seems to be grounded enough not to let the spotlight get to him.
“He’s handled it fine,” Shanahan said Thursday on a conference call. “Nick’s the same guy every single day. He was practice squad with us all last year and rarely got reps even there. He was usually our practice squad safety, just because we didn’t have enough guys and acted the same as a practice squad safety as a backup No. 2 and as he did last week and this week as the No. 1.”
Shanahan acknowledged it always gets “harder and harder” for a quarterback as NFL defenses get more tape on him, but he also added “there’s some benefit for [Mullens], also.”
“This will be his first full speed practice [week] that he’s had with us as a starter,” Shanahan said, an incredible fact that adds to how impressive Mullens’ debut was in Week 9.
A few weeks ago, Giants rookie QB Kyle Lauletta was thought to be the third-string quarterback that might make waves in this game, given that Pat Shurmur will be evaluating him at some point in the second half of the season to determine Big Blue’s future at the position.
But after Lauletta’s arrest during the bye week, and Mullens’ 34-3 trouncing of Oakland on Thursday Night Football, it is now the Niners’ young kid who owns the spotlight entering this showdown of two disappointing teams — with one’s arrow on the future pointing up.