Listen Live Now:

49ers Notebook: Offseason program cut short, veteran receiver in position to make final roster

© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Few teams have been as tormented by injuries as the 49ers. Every year, there’s a new hope that they might relent, and every year, they’re stunned. That’s already happened this offseason with three significant injuries.

There is no unifying factor, and the team has made a very conscious effort to protect against injuries. Still, they relent, and the 49ers canceled the remainder of their offseason program in part due to those injuries.

Offseason program ends abruptly

Head coach Kyle Shanahan announced on Wednesday that the 49ers’ offseason program is over. He made the decision a day earlier than expected after the Skule and Moore injuries. It was not a decision players expected, but Shanahan said he made it in part given to the massive turnout the 49ers had at organized team activities.

Shanahan said the rookies will stay around, “some more than others,” but that he’d made the decision weeks ago that the 49ers would skip minicamp given the turnout and ability to have a full slate of OTAs.

“We really had 89 people show up to OTAs, which was unbelievable,” Shahanan said. “I was going to surprise them on Thursday and take everyone bowling. But after our seventh practice, with those two injuries and just the aura it gave to it, I wasn’t going to come back and do one more just to do one more. So I surprised them on day eight instead of day nine.”

Suffice it to say, there were a fair few questions about the 49ers’ injury situation. They have been riddled with injuries since the end of the Harbaugh era with frightening consistency, and that’s with turnover and proactive changes in the strength and conditioning and medical staff.

Shanahan pointed to the freakish nature of the three most recent injuries.

Jeff Wilson Jr. tore his meniscus standing up from a chair. Tarvarius Moore tore his Achilles while running on air two plays apart from Justin Skule, who tore his ACL while planting in pass protection drills.

The constant evaluator that he is, Shanahan said he’s always thinking about new ways for the 49ers do things, which includes player health. But he said making changes to how the 49ers conduct training camp because of those three injuries is irresponsible.

“One thing I do know going through this for 19 years and just being around it in a lot of different places, you’ve got to play football in order to get ready for football and the more football you play the better you are and the longer that you can do it,” Shanahan said. “Every time you play a sport or every time you do anything, you’ve got a chance to get hurt. So obviously that goes up, but that’s what we’re paid to do. And that’s the only way you can get better at what we do is by doing it.”

High praise for Mohamed Sanu

There’s a pretty open competition in the 49ers’ receiver room. With Kendrick Bourne gone, there’s a clear spot for a new No. 3, slot receiving option. Richie James Jr. has the best chance to take over that role, but he’s also on the smaller side at 5’10”.

Outside of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and maybe James, there’s no real clarity in the receiving department.

That means the door is wide open for the likes of Jauan Jennings, Jalen Hurd, Mohamed Sanu, Travis Benjamin, Nate Sherfield, Austin Watkins, even Bennie Fowler and River Cracraft.

But with Hurd rehabbing, and Aiyuk, Samuel, James and Benjamin all nursing soft tissue injuries. Sanu had a hell of a day last Wednesday, catching at least five passes in 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills, looking unquestionably like the best receiver on the field, and even more crucially, like he’s healthy.

Sanu suffered a bad ankle sprain (which later required surgery) after being traded to the Patriots for a second-round pick in 2019, with the 49ers strongly considering him before being outbid by the New England and deciding to move for Emmanuel Sanders. He was cut by the 49ers last year, later signing with the Lions, and is now back, looking as good as he has since Atlanta.

Offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel all but guaranteed that if Sanu looks like he does now when the 49ers have camp in a few weeks, he’ll make the roster.

“That’s a great observation. Mohamed Sanu is a player that we have history with, not just last year briefly, but in Atlanta for 2016,” McDaniel said. “I think Mohamed Sanu serves as a good vision for a lot of the young guys because this dude came back in great shape and with something to prove. You can tell that he doesn’t expect anything that to be given to him, and he’s trying to earn his spot on this team. So it was very exciting to see him perform. He was doing very well. And, if he comes back to training camp in that same shape, he’s going to be a guy that is going to be tough to beat out for that final 53 roster.”

Other notes: Road trips, Ford and Bosa, and vaccinations

  • The 49ers will take at least two road trips this year. The first will be down to Los Angeles, where they’ll spend a few days practicing with/against the Los Angeles Chargers before their August 22 preseason game. And between the first (at Detroit) and second (at Philadelphia_ weeks of the season, they’ll return to The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, where they spent the week last year between their Week 2 and 3 games against the New York Jets and Giants, respectively.
  • Shanahan said the team sent Ford home to Kansas City to see his back specialist and because he’d spent so much time at the 49ers’ facility. He’s hopeful he can participate in training camp.
  • In order for NFL teams to have relaxed restrictions, and effectively go maskless, they need to get to an 85 percent COVID-19 vaccination threshold among players. For the 49ers, their entire Tier 1 and 2 staffs, which include coaches and trainers, etc., have been 100 percent vaccinated. It’s a different story, though, for the players. Shanahan said 52 have been vaccinated and that to get to the 85 percent threshold, they need 77 players to get vaccinated. Newly-signed safety Tony Jefferson tweeted Wednesday that he got vaccinated. Shanahan said he hopes they reach that threshold by the start of training camp; it seems evident that teams that cross that marker will have an advantage over teams who do not.

Get KNBR in your inbox

Subscribe today to bring The Sports Leader to your email inbox weekly.