© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
When Mike McGlinchey, Joe Staley and Kyle Juszczyk were all sidelined for more than a month by the end of Week 5, it seemed far-fetched that the 49ers would rattle off another four wins with relative ease. Yet, the unheralded tackle duo of Daniel Brunskill and Justin Skule filled in better than a host of starting tackles around the league and Ross Dwelley provided a capable blocking fullback presence.
Now, with the 49ers approaching their pivotal Week 10 matchup at home against the Seattle Seahawks, and set to embark upon a brutal eight-game stretch to close out the season—Seahawks (H), Arizona Cardinals (H), Green Bay Packers (H), Baltimore Ravens (A), New Orleans Saints (A), Los Angeles Rams (H), Seahawks (A)—all those three starters appear set to return.
Staley suffered a broken left fibula in Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals and was given a return timeline of six-to-eight weeks. Both McGlinchey and Juszczyk suffered knee injuries—McGlinchey’s a right knee that required arthroscopic surgery and Juszczyk a left MCL sprain—in Week 5 against the Cleveland Browns which set them back for four-to-six weeks.
Looking ahead, it always seemed like the matchup against the Carolina Panthers would be too early and the time between that game and the ensuing one, on short rest, against the Cardinals, would set up returns for Week 10 against the Seahawks. Barring any setbacks, that timeline appears to be falling into place. Staley said he was always aiming for the Monday night date against the Seahawks.
“It’s been a long process,” Staley said Tuesday. “My plan is to play, so I’m excited about it… I wasn’t gonna say at the time, but there was no real aspirations to play [before Week 10]. I was just kind of doing what I could do and trying to push it as much as I could push it, but there was no timetable. This is the game that we were kind of all looking for, so excited to be able to keep with it, keep patient with it.”
McGlinchey, who said he’d never missed a game in his career dating back to high school, was probably pained as much by the injury as he was by his time as a spectator.
“It’s been awful, you know, I, I’m not a guy that likes to just sit around and collect a check,” McGlinchey said. “I’m here to play football. I’m here because I love what I do and I’m a competitor. As good as it is watching my team become 8-0, it’s pretty tough going from where I was in the first four games to being a fan and a sideline guy, these last four so I’m excited to get back into the group here.”
While he hesitated to say that he would definitely play on Monday, McGlinchey said, “That’s what the hope is.” He said he’s physically fine, but that he’s “just gotta get my wind back.”
From this reporter’s perspective, he looked just fine as he pulled off a genuinely impressive eurostep layup on the 49ers’ locker room basketball hoop.
“Never lost my hoop dreams, man,” McGlinchey said when asked about it.
Juszczyk was a bit more straightforward in his optimism than McGlinchey, who is often chided (albeit jokingly) by Staley as being like a politician for his knack as an orator. If there hadn’t been a short week preceding the Cardinals game and he’d had an opportunity to “actually hit some people” in practice, Juszczyk said he would have had a chance to play last week. This week is more certain.
“I feel amazing,” Juszczyk said. “I feel 100 percent, ready to ride.”
All three were complimentary of their replacements and the 49ers’ coaching. Juszcyk said he saw improvement in Dwelley’s game each week, with his best performance coming Thursday night.
“They did such a phenomenal job,” Juszczyk said. “I’m so proud of Ross. He really held down the fort. Him, Brunskill and Skule, just couldn’t be more proud of how they played. It’s a testament to them and it’s a testament to our coaching staff and getting those guys ready.”
Aside from the first couple of games, when the team was still evaluating Skule and Brunskill, Staley said Shanahan didn’t need to adjust the offense all that much to accommodate them.
“Dan [Brunskill] has done a great job,” McGlinchey said. “He’s been a consistent and good player for us. You know he’s been great, great on his guys in the run game and great with his hands in the pass game, so all the credit in world to both Dan and Justin for the job that they’ve done in these last Justin, I guess six weeks and Dan four. We’re very lucky. There’s not a lot of teams in the NFL that could lose their two starting tackles and still have the production that we’ve had offensively. And that’s a credit to Kyle, and the offensive staff and and then the two of those guys that stepped up huge for us.”