© Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
It was perhaps an overconfident assumption that Trent Williams, who is probably a better player than Joe Staley, could take over his role seamlessly. But with a dearth of reliable veterans departed in Staley, right guard Mike Person, DeForest Buckner, Levine Toilolo and Sheldon Day, perhaps the 49ers are now realizing what they lost was a less-than tangible, but invaluable amount of experience and leadership.
George Kittle gets leadership advice from Staley
On the offensive line, there’s no clear leader. It should be Mike McGlinchey, but he’s struggled this season and it’s hard to command a room with Trent Williams when Williams has made the Pro Bowl seven times. Williams is still adjusting to the scheme and Ben Garland, Laken Tomlinson and Daniel Brunskill are all reserved guys.
But many of the issues in pass protection and the run game have fallen with skill position players. George Kittle, who is effectively a member of the offensive line and a skill position player, is aware he needs to be more proactive in holding his teammates accountable.
Kittle said Wednesday he talked to Joe Staley after the 43-17 walloping at the hands of the Miami Dolphins.
“Joe would hold you accountable and he’d you make sure you heard his point and what he thought was required of you on a daily basis,” Kittle said. “And so that’s one thing Joe told me. I talked to him after last game and he was just like, ‘Look, you have to hold people accountable and you have to hold them to the highest standard.’ Because that’s what we’ve done for the last three years, is hold guys to an incredibly high standard and I’m not saying we’re lacking in that at all. I’m just saying we’re trying to find our footing as a team and as captains too.”
Both the loss of Staley, and with Richard Sherman sidelined for most of this season represent a pair of players Kittle said the team looks up to. In terms of finding their roles as leaders, Kittle said he, Fred Warner, and the rest of that younger core of captains are “still learning how to do that.”
“I definitely do need to be a little bit more direct when it comes to guys and holding guys accountable,” Kittle said.
Of course, Kittle tends not to hang on sour notes. He said there has been a noticeable improvement in the 49ers’ practices this week, describing Thursday’s as the best of the season. He expects that will translate Sunday against a 4-1 Rams team which looks far closer to the 2018 version of itself than the 2019 version.
“I thought we had our best practice of the year today,” Kittle said. “Guys were locked in. Our offense was humming, O-line looked good. We had a great run period… We know that we’re not playing at the level that we want to be playing at, so I think that this week has been really good for us and watching the film and trying to get better from it. I think we’ve definitely taken a step forward.”
Saleh acknowledges Brian Allen could have used more help
Last Sunday, it was immediately apparent the Miami Dolphins wanted to attack Brian Allen play-in and play-out. He was burned to the tune of 139 yards, 31 penalty yards (two penalties) and a touchdown before being benched in favor of the break-in-case-of-emergency option in Ahkello Witherspoon, who was nursing a hamstring issue (he’s not shown up on the injury report his week).
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh did not make excuses for leaving Allen out on an island too frequently, but also explained why that happened without lashing out at critics.
“Absolutely, there could have been more [help],” Saleh said. “I know that we had a certain game plan going in throughout the entire course of the week and we still thought we, after that first series, did our best to try to give him some safety help.”
He pointed out that Allen’s first major lapse to open the game was a well-covered play in “fantastic position,” that he mistimed. The 49ers could live with that and weren’t alarmed then.
The next series, the team “took a shot,” when Fred Warner flashed as a blitzer, and the rest of the defense played Cover-1 Man, with Jaquiski Tartt the lone high safety. Allen got burned by DeVante Parker for 28 yards on a jump ball down the right sideline in which he failed to turn or attack the ball.
At that point, Saleh said the team looked to get him more help. The next series was the three-and-out, when the 49ers had the Dolphins pinned inside their own 10-yard line.
On the fourth series, the 49ers had the Dolphins down to 3rd and 22, and as was the case in the second series, Saleh said they “took a shot,” but Ryan Fitzpatrick “took his shot.” He beat Allen deep for a 22-yard touchdown.
“At that point, it was evident that from just a structural standpoint and for Brian, we had to give him a break and see if we can settle it down,” Saleh said. “Again, I’m going to say it for Brian, I’m very proud of the individual and I mean this sincerely. He’s got a bright future ahead of him. Sometimes people get thrown into a fire, not that he wasn’t ready for it, but there’s still a lot of room for him to grow and get better and I’m still excited to work with him on a day-to-day basis.”
Raheem Mostert sees birth of son, but has to re-separate himself
Earlier this year, Mostert said he and his wife, Devon, cried about the thought of being apart, especially with the couple’s second son, Neeko Rafe, on the way. Raheem Mostert said he wasn’t sure if he’d even be able to be there for the birth of his second son, but the timing worked out, and the 49ers allowed him to travel home to Cleveland, Ohio, during the team’s week of practice in West Virginia, after he suffered an MCL sprain. The Cleveland Browns reportedly let Mostert get tested for COVID-19 at their facility.
But just as soon as he was reunited with his family, he was gone. He credited Devon Mostert for holding down “the fortress” while Raheem Mostert is unable to be there.
“Right now it’s definitely difficult just being away from my family,” Mostert said. “Usually, when we had our first son, I was able to hold him with one hand, hold his little butt right on my chest. For me not to be able to do that with my second son is kind of rough on me. I talked with my wife about it last night and we just had a long talk and shared those moments because she’s doing it for me.”
The 49ers have two players who did not practice on Thursday after practicing on Wednesday in full in Jeff Wilson Jr. and Marcell Harris. Emmanuel Moseley practiced in full, suggesting he’ll return to the field this Sunday.
LB Kwon Alexander (ankle)
CB Dontae Johnson (groin)
S Marcell Harris (ankle) – Full practice on Wednesday
RB Jeff Wilson (calf) – Full practice on Wednesday
QB Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle)
DL D.J. Jones (eye)
CB Emmanuel Moseley (concussion) – Limited on Thursday