Tight end-needy 49ers looking to Leondhardt and Bell

The San Francisco 49ers announced on Tuesday that TE Garrett Celek has been placed on the Injured Reserve List due to an ankle injury, effectively ending his 2015 season.

Celek — who was injured during the 49ers Week 12 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals — was enjoying a productive season as a key member of the San Francisco offense.

He posted career highs with 186 yards on 19 receptions, while finding the end zone three times in 11 games. Celek finishes his season sixth on the team in receptions — with 19 — and tied for first with three touchdowns.

With tight end Vance McDonald still going through the concussion protocol after being taken out of Sunday’s game against the Bears, the 49ers are left with just rookie Blake Bell as the sole healthy tight end on the 53-man roster heading into Sunday’s game with the Browns.

The 49ers have two tight ends in Jamie Childers and Brian Leonhardt eligible for promotion from their practice squad should McDonald be unable to clear protocol in time for the weekend’s game.

The loss of Celek and McDonald in the short-term harms what has been a successful passing attack as of late by QB Blaine Gabbert.

Gabbert has seemingly relied heavily upon his tight ends, with 292 of his 963 total yards since becoming the starter for the 49ers being shared amongst the group.

The lack of quality tight ends may really affect the San Francisco offense in the red zone, where both McDonald and Celek contributed four of Gabbert’s five total touchdowns on the season.

The depletion of the tight end corps marks a significant departure from the overabundance of wealth that the 49ers had at the position heading into OTA’s. With the additions of Bell and Busta Anderson in this year’s draft, San Francisco had seven tight-ends signed at the start of the offseason program.

That number was cut down after the 49ers shipped away Asante Cleveland to New England for guard Jordan Devey, and Derek Carrier to Washington in exchange for a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft.

Long-time veteran of the 49ers Vernon Davis would be traded later in the season to the Denver Broncos for a 2017 sixth-round pick as well

The injury to McDonald comes at an inopportune time for the third-year player, as his play as of recent has been trending upwards after a pair of disappointing seasons. McDonald had exploded for 144 yards and two touchdowns across the last three games before being removed from Sunday’s game with a concussion.

The injury won’t keep McDonald out longterm, but it may throw the 49ers for a tailspin this weekend if he can’t clear the protocol in time.

Head coach Jim Tomsula spoke on Monday about the team’s depleted tight end corps, saying:

“Well, obviously we have to look at that. We brought a guy in. We’ve got our guys in here on the practice squad. It’s obviously a concern. We need to be shored up for it. Feel pretty good about McDonald, but we’ve got to make sure that we’re covered there and we will be.”

Bell will be the beneficiary of the injuries to the 49ers’ tight ends. The 6-foot-6 rookie from Oklahoma has seven receptions for 87 yards on the season. At 252 pounds, he lacks the explosiveness that other tight ends on the 49ers have shown, but he’s has the ability to use his body to bump off defenders and gain yards after contact.


Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the San Francisco 49ers.