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The 49ers lost to the Seattle Seahawks on Monday by the skin of their teeth, and in large part due to a litany of injuries. Many of those injuries will carry into this week’s matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, but there will be one return the 49ers have been waiting on that appears to finally have arrived.
The status report and what happened to Staley’s finger
Ronald Blair III was lost to a season-ending right ACL tear on Monday. He was placed on injured reserve and replaced by Damontre Moore. The 49ers also had Joe Staley suffer a finger fracture/dislocation, which head coach Kyle Shanahan said he suffered in the first half.
Staley underwent surgery on Tuesday night and will be out likely for two weeks. The injury is similar to the one that guard Joshua Garnett suffered in the preseason. Garnett was out for three weeks as opposed to the two Shanahan said Staley is expected to be out for.
The veteran tackle had a “very hard time” dealing with the fact that he’d have to undergo surgery, according to Shanahan, because he played through the injury in the second half. The finger was unable to be popped back into place, and left uncorrected, Shanahan said it would set permanently that way.
“When you do have a certain type of dislocation or fracture that you can’t pop back in, if that stays out for 10 days without surgery then it will stay out for life, it just forms that way and then you can’t move it and function with it,” Shanahan said. “Maybe if this was the last game of the year you could do it right now and hopefully you can do it right after and you’d be in that two-day window, but if he tried to just tough it out and play with this, in about six days from now he wouldn’t be able to move his finger again. He can get the surgery, fix it, hopefully it’ll be just two games. There’s always an outside chance at one, but I’m expecting two games and then he’ll be good to go for the year.”
The 49ers also lost D.J. Jones (groin) and Matt Breida (ankle sprain) to injuries that were re-aggravated, saw Azeez Al-Shaair depart with a concussion and Emmanuel Sanders left with a rib injury. Below are the official game statuses for the 49ers:
OUT: Joe Staley (finger), D.J. Jones (groin)
DOUBTFUL: George Kittle (knee/ankle), Matt Breida (ankle), Robbie Gould (quadricep)
QUESTIONABLE: Ahkello Witherspoon (quad/foot), Emmanuel Sanders (ribs), Raheem Mostert (knee), Dante Pettis (back), Azeez Al-Shaair (concussion)
Witherspoon finally back?
After a longer-than-expected absence from Ahkello Witherspoon with a foot sprain and then quad strain, he appears to be set to play against the Cardinals. There is a full breakdown of Witherspoon’s setbacks in yesterday’s 49ers Notebook. He was initially expected to play against the Carolina Panthers in Week 8, then had a setback and was expected to play against the Seahawks in Week 10 before another setback, which appears to have been the quad strain.
Witherspoon told KNBR on Wednesday: “I’m good, I’m ready to go,” and Shanahan said on Tuesday that Witherspoon would get his starting job back if he practiced well this week. Shanahan’s answer on Friday lacked some clarity, but confirmed Witherspoon would play.
“He’s done as good as he can with all the reps he’s been given,” Shanahan said. “We walked through most of this week, so we didn’t give him enough because it wasn’t full speed. We had to recover from our Monday night game, but the full speed reps he’s had, he’s done very well in and that’s why I expect him to be out there. We’ll see how much.”
Shanahan was asked to clarify if Witherspoon would start.
“He’s going to be out there this week,” Shanahan said. “He is questionable, so something could happen here over the next two days where he’s not available to go, but he’s shown that we can put him out there. I’ll decide right at kickoff how long that is.”
Witherspoon does play on special teams (25 percent of special teams snaps in Weeks 1-3), so there is the potential to have him limited to special teams and rarely-used dime packages (only used sparingly this season when Jason Verrett was active), though it seems more probable that Witherspoon would start over Emmanuel Moseley and Moseley would handle the special teams load, where he excelled before starting in Witherspoon’s stead.
The message from Shanahan has been that when Witherspoon is ready, he’ll get his starting job back. To have him active and on special teams would imply that he’s healthy enough to play, but simultaneously renege on Shanahan’s promise that Witherspoon would get his job back when he’s ready. It doesn’t seem like the 49ers would take that approach.
The signs point toward Witherspoon starting for the first time since Week 3 or being used in an only-if-necessary backup role should Moseley be injured, but not some in-between combination where he plays limited downs or on special teams only.
Sanders says he’ll try to play
Emmanuel Sanders told reporters Friday he would try to “battle it out” against the Cardinals, a sentiment that confirmed, as his three practice absences this week made clear, that he’s not yet at 100 percent, but will nonetheless play. Shanahan said on Tuesday that just like Kittle, he doesn’t need to practice in order to play but can “watch and learn.”
He has been out before the start of open practice wearing his jersey without pads, a sign that he’s been participating in walkthroughs. He then heads off the field and into the weight room. That walkthrough involvement appears to be exactly that watch and learn approach.
Shanahan said on Friday that he’s seen Sanders in less pain than at the start of the week. Sanders declined to give too much information away about the nature of the rib injury, so as not to be targeted by defensive players.
“Yeah, it looks like he’s walking around better, sitting in the meetings better,” Shanahan said.
It’s likely that Sanders takes a limited number of snaps. Regardless of how long he’s out there, he said he’s unintimidated by the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson (who said he’ll play through a calf injury), or any other corner in the league, for that matter.
“That’s nothing against Patrick Peterson,” Sanders said. “I’m just saying that in my mind, I feel like I’m better than everybody I go against. That has to be the mindset, so it really doesn’t matter who I go against.”
Shanahan explains why he can’t rule Kittle out
George Kittle has been doing side field work for the past two days after suffering a knee and ankle injury which he played through for most of the 49ers’ last meeting with the Arizona Cardinals.
This is what Shanahan said when asked if Kittle’s MRI came back “clean” on November 7:
“I mean there’s issues,” Shanahan said. “He’s got things in his knee and ankle so we’ll see.”
Shanahan said he’s seen progress from Kittle this week, but the 49ers don’t intend to play him. As general manager John Lynch said on KNBR on Thursday, Kittle won’t allow the 49ers to ever rule him out.
“He’s definitely better this week than he was last week,” Shanahan said. “We’ll see how these next two days go. We’ve got him doubtful because we’d rather not. I want him to be healthy throughout this year. We’ll see what happens with the other guys. Kittle won’t allow us to ever rule him out until it’s right at game time because he’s done some pretty amazing things here in the last couple of years.”
Lynch also said the 49ers have to protect Kittle from himself, something Shanahan repeated himself.
“There’s no doubt about it, yeah,” Shanahan said. “I mean, he played through the game two weeks ago with the same deal, so that’s why he’s a guy that you never count out. We’re trying to be smart with him, though. We’ll see how the other people doing going up to kickoff. He played two weeks ago with this, so it is always a possibility, but that’s why we’ve got him as doubtful.”