© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
There is a healthy mix of optimism and pessimism on the 49ers’ injury front at the moment, and with Monday night’s matchup against the Seattle Seahawks representing the most crucial game of the season, there may not be complete clarity until game day. However, head coach Kyle Shanahan did provide details on a number of potential returns and timelines on Thursday which paint a picture of what the upcoming week might look like.
George Kittle’s MRI appears to have not come back clean
While NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that George Kittle’s knee was “good” on Friday following an MRI, that may have been an overstatement based on head coach Kyle Shanahan’s description of Kittle’s status on Thursday.
On #49ers TE George Kittle, who went down on Thursday night: “Knee is good,” source said. Sounds like the MRI confirmed the minor ailment coach Kyle Shanahan had hoped for.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 1, 2019
When asked about if the MRI came back clean, Shanahan insinuated that was not the case, saying: “There’s issues. He’s got things in his knee and ankle so we’ll see.”
Kittle did not practice Thursday, along with fellow tight end Levine Toilolo (groin), Robbie Gould (quadriceps strain) and Ahkello Witherspoon. Kittle’s status, according to Shanahan, won’t become clear until late in the week.
“Day-to-day. Hoping he can play this week, but we’ll see, it’s probably not going to be a decision until the end of the week,” Shanahan said. “Something on the knee and ankle. He’s got two things on both areas. We know Kittle’s a very tough guy. It’s why he was able to come back in that game. But it’s something we’re not going to know until the end of the week.”
Ahkello Witherspoon has no timetable, and is dealing with more than a foot sprain
When Witherspoon suffered a foot injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3, he was nonplussed despite being carted off the field, and thought he’d be able to return after the bye week to face the Cleveland Browns in Week 5. As is always the case with players’ self-diagnoses, it’s wise to ignore them.
Instead, Witherspoon was revealed to have suffered a right foot sprain that Monday, with a sideline expectation of “at least a month.” It’s now been 45 days since that timeline was announced. On October 29, head coach Kyle Shanahan expressed confidence that Witherspoon would be ready to return for the upcoming Monday night matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.
“We feel very good about the Seattle game and we’re pushing a little bit this week, but we’ll see how it goes,” Shanahan said.
That tune flipped on Monday, as Shanahan revealed Witherspoon would not practice Thursday and had suffered a setback. He said he wasn’t surprised by his status and hoped he’d be able to practice on Friday.
“Not really. I would have been two weeks ago, but he had that setback, 10 days ago or something like that, so we knew it was going to come down to this,” Shanahan said. “He was able to do a little bit, just rehabbing this weekend. I think he’ll get out there tomorrow.”
Witherspoon said he doesn’t have a timeline. Asked by KNBR if his only ailment was still the right foot sprain, he revealed that he’s also been dealing with a quad strain. He did not say which leg it was in, but a full leg sleeve on his right leg would imply it’s the same side as the foot sprain.
“It feels like day to day, honestly, I feel like I’m just so far into the process that a week is too big,” Witherspoon said. “It could be three days, it could be seven days, could be 10 days, I guess it’s just really however my body feels. A time table is out of the picture right now.”
Mike McGlinchey said Tuesday that for him, it was more about getting his conditioning back in order to play this week. Witherspoon’s case is the reverse, in that his conditioning is fine, but his body isn’t healthy enough to play.
“I’m not healthy enough to play football right now, that’s really it,” Witherspoon said. “The conditioning, all the wind has been fine because I’m still able to move but just not at full capacity right now. So when that time comes when I’m fully healthy. I think it’ll be a seamless transition though because I’ve been doing so much conditioning.”
He didn’t view the setback in exactly the same light as Shanahan.
“Not really not a setback, it’s just part of the process that’s coming back to being 100 percent healthy,” Witherspoon said. “I think you have progress and then it slows down. Progress slows down. Just good days bad days, but a setback in terms of whatever like timetable would make sense, yes, but not actually physically to where anything I’m worried. It’s just going through the process.”
Staley, Juszczyk looking just ahead of McGlinchey
All three of Joe Staley (left fibula fracture), Kyle Juszczyk (left MCL sprain) and Mike McGlinchey (right knee arthroscopy) are expected to return this week. All three were limited in practice on Thursday. On Tuesday, Juszczyk said he felt “100 percent,” and Staley said he planned to play. McGlinchey was a bit more reserved, saying, as mentioned above, that he needed to get his “wind back” from a conditioning standpoint and that “the hope” is to play Monday.
Shanahan said Thursday that his expectation is that all three will play Monday, but he feels McGlinchey is a tick behind the other two, and that it’s not certain any will play.
“We’re hoping all three of them will be out there,” Shanahan said. “I’d say I feel a little more confidence, just a little bit more with Staley and Jus. I think they are just a hair ahead of McGlinchey in that area, but today will be their first real practice. We had a practice on Tuesday, but it really wasn’t against each other, we were doing a lot of stuff on air, so this will be their first day to really go against people and put bodies on each other. I’ll have a much better feel after today. We’re hoping to get all three, but can’t guarantee any of them.”
He declined to say whether he’d keep Daniel Brunskill at right tackle or move Justin Skule there should McGlinchey remain out on Monday and Staley play, but said the 49ers would consider all their options. For all three to play, he said he needs to see them demonstrate their health for consecutive days in practice.
“Just that they are fully healthy, and I know they are from a medical standpoint, but you don’t get to see how much it has affected their body until they go full speed, not just for a few reps but a couple days back-to-back,” Shanahan said. “If they are what they were before they left, then they will for sure be out there.”
The IR receivers: Optimism for Hurd, not so much for Taylor
It’s not looking good for a potential return for Trent Taylor. He had surgery for a Jones fracture in his foot, which he sustained before the 49ers’ first preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys. After a setback, Taylor was placed on injured reserve on September 20, before the 49ers’ Week 3 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He would be eligible to begin practicing now and return by Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers, but it seems unlikely he’ll return at all.
“It’s not looking likely right now,” Shanahan said. “If he was able to come back and get 100 percent healthy, there’s no doubt we’d bring Trent back, but he’s had some setbacks. His injury, he had an infection with it too, so he had to start that over, so it’s cost him some time.”
Jalen Hurd was placed on injured reserve, along with cornerback Jason Verrett, during the 49ers’ bye week in Week 4. He suffered what was termed a stress reaction in his back and was seen doing rehab work on the far side of the 49ers’ practice field on Tuesday. He would be eligible to begin practicing next week and return by Week 13 against the Baltimore Ravens.
Shanahan provided more optimism on Hurd, but said that the 49ers won’t open his three-week return window (three weeks to begin practicing, then must either be activated or return to season-ending IR) until they feel he’s healthy enough. That window could be opened at any point after this week.
“I think he’s got a chance to come back,” Shanahan said. “The first time we can activate him to practice is next week, the Arizona week. So we’ll see how this week goes and we’ll make that decision next week. If he’s not ready by then, then he’ll be week-to-week to give him that chance to open up that three-week window.”
Other injury notes:
Limited in practice today were the following players: Dee Ford (quadriceps/knee tendinitis), Raheem Mostert (knee strain), Staley, McGlinchey, Juszczyk, and Garrett Celek.
Celek, the second-longest tenured 49ers player behind Joe Staley, participated in practice for the first time this week, opening his three-week window to either return from the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list to play or be placed on IR. He’s effectively an insurance policy for a serious injury to one of the other tight ends.