Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
Thursday tends to be a crucial day in the cycle of the NFL game week. It’s not an official deadline, but especially with younger players, it often represents the last day for a player to return to practice, ensuring two days of participation before Sunday. If a player misses Thursday practice and they’re not a veteran or in the Nick Bosa category, the chances they play on Sunday are slim.
Brandon Aiyuk returns
For the first time since August 23, when he sustained a hamstring strain described as “mild,” Brandon Aiyuk returned to practice in limited fashion. For the second-straight day, center Ben Garland participated in practice in limited fashion. Deebo Samuel and Jason Verrett, who has already been ruled out for Sunday, remain out.
Fred Warner returned to practice this week off the reserve/Covid-19 list and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said he was not expected to have any restrictions in practice or in Sunday’s season opener against the Arizona Cardinals. Warner, who likely tested positive for Covid-19, as we explained here, declined to confirm whether he tested positive or was simply in close contact with someone who had it, but acknowledged it was not an enjoyable experience.
“It sucked, knowing that you possibly let the team down,” Warner said. “It wasn’t a fun process.”
As for Samuel, it’s seeming more and more likely he’ll miss the opener. General manager John Lynch joined KNBR on Thursday, saying that the call is Kyle Shanahan’s, but said, “We’ve got to be smart and prudent there.”
Signs are pointing to a Week 1 absence for Samuel, which is still reasonably within his return timeline, though on the later side.
George Kittle and Budda Baker’s mutual respect
If you remember the last time George Kittle faced the Arizona Cardinals, you’ll remember that on the first play from scrimmage, Chandler Jones accidentally took his helmet to Kittle’s knee and ankle, leaving him with a chipped bone in his ankle and an undisclosed knee injury. Kittle, like the lunatic he is, returned, and went to war with the recently-extended safety Budda Baker, who he bullied on this touchdown.
— OurSF49ers (@OurSf49ers) July 22, 2020
Perhaps more infamous than the touchdown was what followed, when Kittle was caught yelling, “I’m still here Budda!” on the sideline.
George Kittle screaming “I’M STILL HERE BUDDA!” the hero we need pic.twitter.com/3sxdSXaRxD
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) November 1, 2019
On Thursday, Kittle explained that he and Baker have an immense respect for each other. When Kittle signed his five-year, $75 million extension, Baker was one of the first people to reach out to congratulate him, Kittle said. When Baker signed his four-year, $59 million extension with the Cardinals in late August, Kittle returned the favor.
Kittle wasn’t in short supply for with praise for Baker.
“I love watching Budda play. He’s a monster,” Kittle said. “He’s all over the field. He is the guy that if you do not block him, he will ruin your day, every single play, the whole game… We’re gonna have a great matchup. We compete at a very high level. We have a lot of intensity and we both love the game of football, I mean what more do you want in a matchup. It’s gonna be incredibly fun. I love playing Budda.
He explained the clip of him shouting at Baker with a reference to Marshawn Lynch.
“Me saying, ‘I’m still here Budda,’ was because he had two great knockdowns on me and I always say, ‘Hey, football’s a long game, there’s 60 to 70 plays and I’m gonna be here all night.’ So that’s just kind of my mindset that you might get me once or twice. I think Marshawn Lynch said that, you know, ‘Just don’t get got more than I get you.’ Something like that.”
Richard Sherman, broadcaster?
Unlike most players his age, and those who have suffered Achilles tears, Richard Sherman is aging like a fine wine. He’s gone from being perceived as the young, loudmouth, in-your-face corner to the wise veteran: Uncle Sherm.
He still does plenty of schooling on the field and acknowledged that the Achilles injury forced him to figure out how to compensate for a loss of health. Though, Sherman has never been the most astounding athlete; that’s part of the reason he was drafted in the fifth round and why he’s had such a long career.
Sherman is a cerebral player who rarely has to rely on physicality; it’s his mind and understanding of the game which makes him so dominant. He said Thursday he’d retire if he can’t play at the level he expects, but that he can only play for a maximum of three more years after this season, per orders from his wife, Ashley Moss. He implied he’d take his talents to the broadcast booth after that.
“I expect myself to play at a certain level and if I play at anything other than that level there’s no reason for me to play,” Sherman said. “So I do believe that I have good years left me. I’m only going to play three after this. That’s what the wife told me, so I don’t call the shots after that… After that then I’m gonna go into the booth.”
Dee Ford’s goals
After what was described as a “pretty extensive cleanup” in Dee Ford’s right knee, in which he was plagued be quad/knee tendinitis, Ford billed himself as the picture of health. He affirmed his goal was to play in all 16 games and remain available.
Ford hinted at the fact that the injury was Achilles-related, but on KNBR, general manager John Lynch confirmed it was an “Achilles tweak.”
“The calf feels fine,” Ford said. “It’s just one of those things when you’re going consecutive days and training camp, when you’re dealing with a calf, you don’t want to risk it getting to that Achilles tendon. So, at the end of the day we had to jump on it because our goal, and especially my goal, which is the team’s goal is to be there 16 games, plus postseason. And I’m not gonna waver on that at all, so we just had to get that right.”
Due to his knee pain, Ford played just 22 percent of the defense’s snaps (226 total snaps), the lowest such percentage and total since his rookie year in 2013. Lynch said Ford was preparing to play upwards of 900 snaps this season, which he accomplished once, during his final year in Kansas City, when he played 87 percent of the snaps and 1,012 in total.
Ford’s expectation is to be an every-down player and made a point to distinguish himself as not just a specialty pass rusher.
“Every down. Every down,” Ford said. “Pass rushing is what I do, [but] I make plays at the end of the day. Pass rushing is what I do, but my goal is to be a great defensive player, not a great pass rusher. So, first, second and third down. Fourth down if needed.”