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Kyle Shanahan says George Kittle out, Dee Ford questionable, previews roles for Mohamed Sanu, Jordan Reed



Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

It shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise.

Yes, George Kittle is gladiator-esque. His pain tolerance and commitment to remaining on the field is nothing short of legendary. But by that same token, the 49ers are often tasked with protecting their soldier-minded star from himself. Unless he loses a limb, Kittle will almost always say he’s fine, or rather, “fantastic,” as he said after Sunday’s game.

The injuries: Kittle, Verrett out, Ford questionable

It was obvious watching the play in which he suffered a knee sprain last Sunday that “fantastic” wasn’t the case for Kittle’s knee, but in his mind, he probably was and still is, fine.

From the 49ers’ perspective though, this was a week for self-preservation. Head coach Kyle Shanahan ruled Kittle and corner Jason Verrett (hamstring strain, yet to practice in the regular season) out for this week.

Rather than flying Kittle to the East Coast to play against a New York Jets team which is, by every stretch of the imagination, abysmal, in large part due to their somehow-still-employed head coach Adam Gase, the 49ers will keep him in Santa Clara until next week, when Kittle, Verrett, and all the players on injured reserve will rejoin the team at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.

Dee Ford, who Shanahan said was suffering from neck spasms, is questionable. There don’t appear to be any other immediate injury concerns as Richie James Jr. (hamstring strain) was placed on injured reserve in order to activate Mohamed Sanu. Brandon Aiyuk and Ben Garland seem likely to make their career and season debuts, respectively.

Expectations for Jordan Reed, Mohamed Sanu

Jordan Reed took exactly 10 snaps in the season opener. That’s what’s called a pitch count.

Reed, who has had seven diagnosed concussions since the start of his college career and myriad foot and ankle issues, is being eased back into life in the NFL. With Kittle out, though, does that mean he’ll get an extended run?

It doesn’t quite sound that way, at least in terms of a monumental snap count increase. Based on Shanahan’s assessment, it sounds like Reed will be around the 15-20-snap range.

“We’ve been building up to ten plays,” Shanahan said. “We were going to build up a little bit more this week. It doesn’t change much with George out. I can give him a couple more opportunities, but we still have our other two tight ends out there. We’ll still carry three… I feel good with him and he’s getting better each week at it, getting healthier and getting more confident what he’s doing in our offense.”

Asked about Charlie Woerner, the best blocking option in the tight end group, Shanahan again pointed to all three, including Ross Dwelley, saying, “They’ll all get more playing time.”

Reed, clearly, is the best receiving target of the group, but Ross Dwelley has been in the system the longest. If there are odds on who gets the most snaps, putting your money down on Dwelley is the safest option.

As for Mohamed Sanu, Shanahan effectively let the cat out of the bag when he raved about his former Falcons receiver on Monday, all but confirming he’d sign with the 49ers. He hasn’t really stopped praising him since then, and saw him on the field for the first time Friday, albeit in walkthroughs and limited drills

It seems likely that he’ll play Sunday, given that three tight ends will be active; Shanahan said the four tight ends last week effectively meant four wide receivers. With three tight ends… well, you do the math.

“If we have five receivers up, he’ll be up,” Shanahan said. “We still haven’t decided yet with everything going on. I know we had four last week, but we’ll see how it’ll balance out this week. He’s been in the Zoom meetings watching all the installs and stuff. When we threw him out there today and he didn’t make any mistakes, was able to line up with confidence and Mo’s a pro… I know if we go with five and we won’t hesitate to have him out there and I know he’ll be ready.”