The 49ers set a franchise record Sunday: 74 different players have appeared in a game this season.
Coach Kyle Shanahan is hoping two very important ones come back from injury to play in the coming weeks. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle are preparing for potential returns later this month.
“I’m holding out hope for Jimmy for the last couple of weeks,” Shanahan said Tuesday. “Same with Kittle. I think they’re in a similar boat, but that I mean that’s not guaranteed.”
Neither will practice this week in Arizona nor play for the 49ers (5-6) in Monday night’s game against the Buffalo Bills (8-3) at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, the 49ers’ new home base because of Santa Clara County’s COVID-related ban on contact sports.
Garoppolo (ankle) and Kittle (foot) have missed the past month as the 49ers (5-6) have struggled, although playoff hopes were recharged after Sunday’s 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Rams.
“They’re just starting to get into where they get on the field and not with us but on their own to do some stuff,” Shanahan said of their rehabs, adding that he is “very happy” with how Mullens quarterbacked the 49ers last game.
Shanahan expects wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, tight end Daniel Helm and defensive linemen D.J. Jones and Jordan Willis to come off the NFL’s COVID-19 reserve list today.
That quartet was among a season-high nine players the 49ers had on the reserve list last week. Shanahan blamed that mass on players consorting after their last game, a Nov. 15 loss in New Orleans.
“We’re not allowed to bond in those spots,” Shanahan said of potential team-bonding sessions in Arizona. “That’s what guys did for 30 minutes after dinner after the New Orleans game and that’s what got us a couple positive tests.”
MORE PLAYERS NEEDED
Cornerbacks Jamar Taylor (knee) and Ken Webster (hamstring) will push the 49ers’ tally to 28 players on Injured Reserve since training camp, including three practice-squad players. Taylor sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament Sunday, and Webster’s hamstring strain was severe.
Defensive ends Dee Ford (back) and Ronald Blair (knee), as well as center Weston Richburg (biceps, knee), are not expected to paly in the remaining games, Shanahan said. Only Ford has played this season, doing so in the opener before a neck and back injury sidelined him.
This year’s injury-laden club eclipsed the franchise record Sunday for players used in a season when defensive linemen Darrion Daniels and Willie Henry Jr. entered in relief. The previous mark was 72 during Shanahan’s first season as coach in 2017.
With five games to go, the 49ers are 10 newcomers shy of the NFL record, set last year when the Miami Dolphins deployed 84 players. The most players used in a 49ers’ season, according to ProFootballReference.com: 74 in 2020, 72 (2017), 69 (2016), 68 (2004, ’18), 66 (2014, ’19), 65 (2005) and 63 (1999, 2015).
Cornerback Richard Sherman and running backs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson came off Injured Reserve to help spark Sunday’s 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Rams. Only linebacker Mark Nzeocha (quadriceps) might potentially come off IR this week. Other injuries to watch are those to nickel back K’Waun Williams (ankle), running back Tevin Coleman (knee) and linebacker Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (hamstring).
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Even after the Denver Broncos’ quarterbacks were all quarantined last game because of COVID-19 concerns, Shanahan has no designs on stashing one of his backups, be it C.J. Beathard or practice-squad veteran Josh Johnson. Running back Jerick McKinnon would fill in if Mullens and Beathard went down in a game, although fullback Kyle Juszczyk had been in that emergency role previous seasons.
“You can’t just go into an NFL game after being locked in a room for weeks until you’re needed and think you’re gonna go out there and perform much better than a practice wide receiver would,” Shanahan said, alluding to the Broncos’ plight Sunday. “That sounds nice, but if it gets to that point, no answer is very good, so you just deal with it.”
Shanahan “promised” he hasn’t looked at the playoff picture, but he’s heard about it from “everyone” all the time.
“My whole football career, I’ve always looked at it as 10 wins gets you in,” Shanahan said. “And that’s kind of how I’ve always based it off. I know there’s some seasons that 10 wins doesn’t (qualify).”
The 49ers are last in the NFC West but within striking range of their division foes: Seattle (8-3), Los Angeles (7-4) and Arizona (6-5). Also ahead of the 49ers in contention for the three wild-card spots are Tampa Bay (7-5) and, based on current tiebreakers) Minnesota (5-6) and Chicago (5-6).
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