Coming off a 2018 where injuries crippled the 49ers, the start of the 2019 offseason program has had an all-too familiar feel.
Both Jimmy Garoppolo (limited) and Jerick McKinnon (non-participant) suffered torn ACLs early last season and are still finishing rehab. In addition, players like running back Matt Breida, linebacker Kwon Alexander, safety Jimmie Ward, rookie defensive-end Nick Bosa, tight end Garrett Celek, wide receiver Jalen Hurd, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, cornerback Jason Verrett, and others are out and recovering from injuries.
Heading into a season that will need healthy play from key players like Garoppolo and McKinnon, the early injuries this summer come as less of a concern compared to years past.
Following Wednesday’s practice, Head Coach Kyle Shanahan said that, the large number of injuries thus far, he is not worried. He said what makes the less worrisome, is the amount of depth the team has at key positions:
“This is the first year going into a year that … I’m going to say this … but truthfully what it is, it’s the first year that we can overcome injuries. … We expect injuries, it’s a part of football, but we’re definitely a lot more confident heading into this year, because we have guys that have experience and guys that have talent that can step in.”
What Shanahan said is important, because it speaks to the depth he and John Lynch have built up. For example, the running back group. Last season Breida shined, but battled injuries all season after McKinnon went down in the last practice of training camp before the season. Heading into 2019, the 49ers have three or four solid running backs that can be more than productive in Shanahan’s offense.
That backfield depth now includes an almost healthy McKinnon, Breida, Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert. Currently, Coleman is the only healthy back that is participating in practices, but if something were to happen to one or two of those backs, the team feels confident in the depth at that position.
Another area of depth on the roster is the wide receiver group. The 49ers have a very deep group of receivers that only got deeper this offseason. Currently, Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin, Samuel and Hurd seem like locks, but we’re still ways away from important roster decisions. When that time comes, receivers like Trent Taylor, Jordan Matthews, Richie James Jr. and Kendrick Bourne could be battling for roster spots.
Last season, Pierre Garçon, Goodwin, Pettis and Taylor struggled to stay healthy, with all missing time at some point in 2018. Because of that, Bourne led the team in receiving yards (487). That should not be the case in 2019. With the long list of players fighting to earn a spot on the roster, there will be plenty of competition among many potential receivers capable of playing in Shanahan’s system.
During Garoppolo’s stretch run at the end of the 2017 season, he developed a strong chemistry with slot-receiver Trent Taylor. Fighting a back injury all of last season, Taylor was never able to stay on the field and produce like he did in 2017. Taylor will likely be fighting for one of the final roster spots, and after Wednesday’s practice, Garoppolo discussed the improvements a healthy Taylor has made thus far:
“Yeah, definitely. Trent is so savvy, it’s awesome having a guy like that in the slot. He feels space differently than most guys. He knows his strengths and he knows his weaknesses, and he’s going to do everything he can to make those weaknesses better. There’s not many of them, but when you have a guy like that, it makes my job very easy.”
After suffering a season-ending injury in week three last season, Garoppolo did not get the chance to develop further chemistry with receivers on the roster. The quarterback who did was backup Nick Mullens. Working with all but a few of the team’s current receiving corps last season, Mullens had this to say about second-round pick Deebo Samuel:
“Yeah Deebo has been great. He’s done everything you can ask of a rookie in terms of coming to work, willing to learn and making plays at the same time. It’ll definitely be exciting to see how reacts to game-like situations. Deebo’s done everything that we expect, and we enjoy watching him.”
Wednesday was the final practice for the 49ers until training camp at the end of July. Thursday, the players and their families will get together at the stadium for a BBQ and family-oriented activities before leaving for about four to five weeks. Some of the rookies will stay behind another week to work on strength and conditioning while the rest of the team and coaching staff enjoys their summer break.
With training camp approaching, the heap of injuries to key 49er players will be the topic of discussion surrounding the team until they can get fully healthy and back on the field to prepare for what will be an important season under the microscope.
Jimmy Garoppolo got his first work in 11-on-11 drills Wednesday, which ended in a touchdown to Dante Pettis to cap off the drive. Shanahan specifically asked his defensive line to “stand there and put your hands up,” to which they failed to do. … Marquise Goodwin has discussed his intent to compete in the 2020 Olympics. Shanahan was asked about it, and simply said he won’t focus on the matter until 2020. … Shanahan believes C.J. Beathard has had a “hell of a camp,” and expects him to compete with Nick Mullens for the backup quarterback job throughout training camp. … Both Garoppolo and McKinnon suffered torn ACLs last season, and Shanahan stated that the two are currently in “about the same” spots in the recovery, despite Garoppolo being on the field and McKinnon not.