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49ers Notebook: Josh Norman arrives and Trey Lance’s splint comes off



Photo Credit: Chris Mezzavilla

It’s game week, finally. After an odd, semi-off week for the 49ers following their final preseason game, San Francisco returned to practice on Monday, ahead of their season opener on Sunday in Detroit. Trey Lance’s splint came off and some new names and numbers appeared.

Practice notes

Trey Lance removed the splint he had been wearing on his right index finger, but did not handle a snap or throw a pass on Monday. He did literally just hold a football, so if you’re into that, go wild. General manager John Lynch described Monday as the “optimistic” timeline for Lance to get back to practicing in full, which did not happen. His game status for Sunday is certainly in question, and it may necessitate activating practice squad quarterback Nate Sudfeld for game day.

There will be at least two more practices plus a Friday walkthrough to see if Lance and other injured players ramp up their participation.

Brandon Aiyuk, meanwhile, returned to practice after dealing with a hamstring injury and participated in full, as Kyle Shanahan said was expected last week. Travis Benjamin was no longer in a blue non-contact jersey, which indicates that he is likely out of the concussion protocol. Aiyuk, Benjamin, Mohamed Sanu and River Cracraft are the only active players on the roster who have more than one punt return in their careers.

Sanu, by the way, is now wearing number 6 after switching with punter Mitch Wishnowsky, who is now number 18.

There was no sign of Jalen Hurd, which doesn’t bode well for his chances in debuting in his first NFL game on Sunday. He could be a candidate to be placed on injured reserve, which would create an immediate roster spot and allow him to return after just three weeks. The 49ers could also just keep him inactive and hope to hold out and use that opportunity at another, more pressing juncture of this season.

Also out of practice were Emmanuel Moseley and Kevin Givens. Givens has a groin injury, while Moseley’s is currently unknown; he was in uniform, but not participating in practice. It’s not unreasonable to think that Moseley’s absence could have provided the impetus for adding Josh Norman, who debuted wearing number 26.

Josh Norman arrives, Dontae Johnson departs 

Norman’s arrival meant the departure of Dontae Johnson, the clear choice to be cut. Johnson missed out on the initial 53-man roster, as the team did a stash-then-IR move for Davontae Harris, before moving Johnson to the active roster.

This is nothing new for Johnson, who the 49ers have cut, then re-signed countless times over the better part of the last decade.

Norman is not the player he was in his All-Pro 2015 season, but he’s been rated consistently around a 70 grade on Pro Football Focus every year since then, except for 2019, when he had a brutal, 45.3 rating, and dealt with a hamstring injury. PFF’s ratings are by no means hard and fast — there are many faults —but they tend to identify poor performance and very good performance fairly well. Aside from 2019, Norman, now 33, has been a consistently solid corner, and is a clear upgrade from Johnson, despite a solid year from Johnson in 2019.

What’s clear is that both Jason Verrett and Moseley have had injury issues both in the past, and in this training camp. Verrett has been dealing with plantar fasciitis, and this is now Moseley’s third absence after his start on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and a hamstring injury. Norman provides a little bit of ease there, given the youth in the secondary.

Other notes: Dee Ford pitch count, Alex Mack interested in 2QB offense

  • Dee Ford revealed Monday that he pushed himself more than he should have in 2019, and it was similar to what happened the first time he injured his back with the Kansas City Chiefs. He admitted he wasn’t fully healthy and tried to power through the injury, but, “backs, spines don’t work that way.” Ford said that he’ll be on a “pitch count” when the 49ers face the Lions on Sunday, and that he and Nick Bosa are “in the same situation,” which would seem to indicate that the 49ers will ease Bosa back to full action, too. With their defensive line depth, that’s a viable option.
  • Alex Mack said he’s intrigued by the 49ers shuffling quarterbacks. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens with that,” Mack said. The 35-year-old veteran center said he had an easy transition into Kyle Shanahan’s offense for the third time after deciding to return to play. He admitted that he, “… went into this offseason to kind of see and feel if I wanted to go back out again and felt good,” but that he’s taking his approach “year by year” and didn’t commit to anything beyond the 2021 season. He signed a three-year, $14.85 million deal with the 49ers this offseason.