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49ers Notebook: Lynch, Shanahan explain roster moves, and practice notes

Photo Credit: Chris Mezzavilla

Wednesday saw the real version of the 49ers’ first 53-man roster. After the chaos of waivers, injured reserve moves and practice squad additions, the 49ers have their real, expanded roster.

Here’s what that roster looks like, visualized.

Graphic by Jake Hutchinson

Practice notes

  • Trey Lance practiced, but was wearing right hand wrap around his index finger and not allowed to take snaps or handle the football. He did a lot of Dak Prescott-esque hip-flipping
  • Aaron Banks (shoulder) returned to practice for the first time in weeks, and Jason Verrett (plantar fasciitis) practiced again, too
  • Brandon Aiyuk (hamstring), Arik Armstead (maintenance), Dre Greenlaw (hip), Travis Benjamin (concussion protocol), Kevin Givens (tight groin, maintenance), Dontae Johnson (abductor) were all out of practice, but expected back next week. Jalen Hurd was limited. All are expected, but not guaranteed to be back next week.
  • New numbers: There were plenty of new numbers on display on Thursday.
    • Jaquiski Tartt has changed his number a second time. He was number 28, switched 26, and is now number 3. That makes it so the projected 49ers starters in the secondary are numbered 1 (Jimmie Ward), 2 (Jason Verrett), 3 (Tartt), and 4 (Emmanuel Moseley).
    • Elijah Mitchell is now number 25 now, after wearing 49 in camp. He said the running back room told him he had to change his number
    • Practice squad changes: Jared Mayden is now 35, was 7, worn by Nate Sudfeld. Alex Barrett is now 58, was 64. Darrion Daniels is 67, was 65. Senio Kelemente is now 61, was 58.

Trey Lance’s status sounding less optimistic

The initial assessment on Trey Lance from Kyle Shanahan is that he sustained a micro chip of a bone on a finger which Shanahan declined to disclose. The expectation was for Lance to return to practice on Monday after resting for a week.

That might still be the case, but neither John Lynch nor Shanahan seemed exceedingly confident about that timeline holding firm. Monday, Lynch said is an optimistic timeline.

“Yeah, I think it’s trending in the right direction,” Lynch said. “Some of the swelling’s coming down. Monday is kind of the optimistic look at it and I can promise you this, we’ll do right by Trey and have him in a good place before he’s back out there. But we certainly would love to have him available on Monday. I can promise you this with Trey as well, he does everything he can to get well and he’s working hard at that right now.”

Shanahan said there’s a possibility that the injury lingers.

“Anytime you’ve got a small chip, it could linger. I hope it doesn’t,” Shanahan said. “I’m hoping he’s back there next Monday. That’s the goal. He seems positive about it. And we have to be smart with it too. Sometimes when it’s a real little thing like that, it’s hard to believe it’s still hurt, but we have to make sure that he doesn’t go out there and have a setback right away on it too.”

Plan at punt returner? 

Don’t worry, folks. There’s a plan at punt returner. It’s a good plan. Some might say, a great plan. But certainly a plan exists, and it’s a plan that has been planned out. Much planning went into this plan. Sorry, John Lynch, but the more times you mention you have a plan while also lamenting that a player was poached off waivers, well, it doesn’t breed confidence in that plan.

Here was Lynch’s answer on the 49ers’ punt returner situation, which, sounds a lot like they expected Nsimba Webster to get through to waivers:

“We have a plan,” Lynch said. “And, you know, there’s there’s a number of guys who’ve been working on that during the during the preseason. We feel quite good about our plan. I think they say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Well, I think in this business, so is getting your players poached off the waiver wire. And that happened and Nsimba Webster’s a guy who does do that and also had some value as a receiver and special teams.

But we’ve got a plan there and I’ll leave that to Kyle to kind of announce who it is and what it is and the depth there and all that when he chooses to. But we’ve thought about that a lot. That’s important to us. We want to make that an asset for this team. And I feel very strongly about it.”

There are currently six players on the 49ers roster and practice squad with experience returning punts in an NFL game: Brandon Aiyuk, Mohamed Sanu, Travis Benjamin, River Cracraft, Dontae Johnson (one, in 2016, for 25 yards) and K’Waun Williams (one, in 2014 with Cleveland, a fair catch).

Shanahan spoke after practice, saying that he believes the 49ers’ returner is on the roster, but declined to say who. He said the 49ers’ return options couldn’t beat out the six receivers they kept on the roster.

“We didn’t feel that we had one who could beat out our receivers,” Shanahan said. “We got to cut a receiver to do that, so usually you want one of your receivers or corners to do it, that’s kinda how it’s been everywhere I’ve ever been. If a guy’s on there just for return status, that ends up costing your team and I do think we have other guys on the team that can do it.”

The 49ers did rep someone at punt returner on Wednesday, but they really, really don’t want reporters to say who it is… which makes it seem much more mysterious than what the reality is.

An easy roster solution is to wait and see which of Jalen Hurd and Jauan Jennings are healthier (Hurd didn’t practice Wednesday) and put one of them on injured reserve, then re-sign Travis Benjamin, or bump him up from practice squad for gameday until a move is required… or just use one of the guys already on the roster.

Tom Compton over Colton McKivitz

The 49ers opted to retain the 32-year-old Tom Compton instead of the 25-year-old Colton McKivitz who was subject to waivers, but cleared them and returned to the team’s practice squad.

Shanahan said Compton simply won the job.

“Compton, thought he finished strong with us last year, started off slow,” Shanahan said. “But he came in, definitely as good as we’ve seen him at the beginning of camp and he did it all the way to the end so it was tough competition but he ended up just winning that job and being one of our nine and felt very fortunate that we still got McKivitz, too.”

Cutting MyCole Pruitt, despite high guarantee

The 49ers guaranteed MyCole Pruitt $500,000 of his base salary and gave him a $137,500 bonus, making him a fairly expensive cut. He has since signed back with the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad.

Given that this team is going to run the ball significantly this year, prefers four tight ends, the fact that Pruitt is a very solid run blocker and was guaranteed that much money, it seemed likely he would make the team.

Lynch and Shanahan said the calf injury he sustained early in camp was a massive detriment to his chances.

“We kind of let that kind of work itself out. The way it worked out, I think what hurt MyCole is he had that calf injury,” Shanahan said. “And so, he never really got an opportunity to show what he could do for us. And when he did, I think he was still getting his legs underneath him. At that time, we made a decision, probably when you go heavy at other positions you’ve got to pull from somewhere and we do keep a fullback. And so, while we have kept four tight ends before, we just felt it was in our best interest to keep three on our roster and MyCole had some opportunities elsewhere as we thought he might. And sometimes that happens and we’re pulling for him to have a quality year wherever he ends up.”

Expectations for Jalen Hurd

It’s abundantly clear that Jalen Hurd is one of the 49ers’ top six most talented receivers on the roster, but he simply hasn’t been available since being drafted. So how did the 49ers balance his lack of availability with that talent?

Well, what Shanahan and Lynch didn’t say is that he was competing with the likes of Richie James Jr. (who got injured and had a dreadful camp), Travis Benjamin (who sustained a concussion and is a cuttable veteran who started camp poorly) and Nsimba Webster (who has dreadful hands and doesn’t look totally comfortable as a receiver).

Shanahan said he hopes to see more of Hurd next week to prove he should be active for gameday.

“I’m hoping for him to be full go,” Shanahan said. “Last week he got his most reps in practice, he definitely got his most reps in that game too which probably was about the peak; he ended up getting like 27 reps, which would have been his most practice too. So having three days, of that was good. We limited him today, he didn’t do as much today. Hopefully we can get more from him tomorrow and have three big practices next week. Hopefully shows he’s one of the five guys who should be up.

Lynch pointed to Hurd’s physicality and attitude with which he plays, in addition to the obvious talent, but acknowledged he has yet to prove his availability.

“You have to show that you can be dependable, that you can be out there,” Lynch said. “Do we feel 100-percent iron clad that he’s proven that he’s that in the short amount of time that he’s been out there? No, but we feel like the talent that he brings. And it’s not just talent. He also brings a physicality and an attitude that he plays with that I believe is really contagious to our team. And so, again, you have backup plans for everything, but we want to enter this year with Jalen there and we’ll see how that goes.”

Other notes on roster moves: Davontae Harris’ status, pending additions, and Clinton-Dix talks

  • One surprise on this roster was keeping Davontae Harris, who has been injured basically the entire time he’s been with the 49ers. They brought him on to put him on injured reserve, and then re-signed Dontae Johnson. Harris “tweaked his hamstring” about 10 days ago, Lynch said and that they like his special teams ability.
  • Two reported additions to the practice squad are former Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Tanner Hudson and cornerback Dee Virgin. Lynch confirmed both, saying the signings are pending physicals.
  • Lynch said that the 49ers opted for Tavon Wilson over Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for a few reasons, including Wilson’s positional flexibility, his special teams ability, and the fact that he was there since the start of camp, and performed well. Lynch did say that the 49ers are engaged in talks with Clinton-Dix about coming back on the practice squad, but nothing is imminent.

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