“To me it’s just part of football” -Kyle Shanahan
Every team has multiple goals during the preseason: get a look at rookies, install new schemes, see how new additions gel with holdovers. But most important to every team is to get through the preseason without any injuries. The 49ers went into their preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys relatively healthy, but during the first quarter four players went down with injuries.
On the first defensive series of the game linebacker Malcolm Smith suffered a hamstring injury and had to leave. Smith was making his debut for the 49ers after missing all of 2017 with a torn pectoral. Smith is expected to miss Saturday’s game versus the Houston Texans. While the coaching staff is high on Smith, the best ability is availability, and he should be pushed by rookie linebacker Fred Warner during the preseason. Smith’s roster spot is far from secure.
The 49ers also lost tight end George Kittle and halfback Matt Breida to shoulder injuries. Kittle was undercut after being overthrown by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on a seam route, coming down awkwardly on his shoulder. Later, Breida made a nice blitz pickup but took a knee to the shoulder and exited the game after the play. Each player was diagnosed with a shoulder separation, but tests showed no structural damage. They’ll each miss the remainder of the preseason to protect against reinjury and make sure both are available for Week 1.
The injuries continued to mount through the first quarter as defensive tackle Solomon Thomas took a kick to the facemask during a defensive stop on third down. Thomas stayed on the turf briefly but was able to leave the field under his own power and went straight to the locker room for treatment. The team announced after the game that Thomas was placed on post-concussion protocol and will likely miss this week’s game.
Swing tackle Garry Gilliam and linebacker Eli Harold also left the game with injuries. Gilliam to a shot to the head and was also placed in post-concussion protocol, while Harold suffered a bruised knee. The 49ers have made no statement regarding the injuries but both players are expected to also miss the Texans game.
The 49ers are expected to get some key players back for the preseason Week 2 match-up against the Texans. Guards Jonathan Cooper, Joshua Garnett and J.P. Flynn are all expected to see the field this Saturday. With Cooper and Garnett entrenched in a battle for the starting right guard position their timing couldn’t be better. Wide receiver Trent Taylor has been cleared following off-season back surgery and reports from camp this week suggest Taylor is looking like his old self. Linebackers Brock Coyle and Fred Warner have been practicing this week and are also expected to play Saturday, each player could push Smith for playing time depending on his hamstring issue.
Cornerback Richard Sherman returned to practice this week and surprised observers by taking part in 11-on-11 drills during the team’s joint practices with the Texans. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said that the team was going to ease Sherman back onto the field, so don’t expect Sherman to make his 49er debut Saturday.
Defensive tackle Arik Armstead and cornerback K’Waun Williams were not cleared for practice with lingering hamstring injuries.
While the 49ers were bit multiple times by the injury bug, they seem to have avoided any major injuries. The coaching staff will do the wise thing and limit the players time on the field for the remainder of the preseason. Small injuries are a fact of life in the NFL; hopefully the 49ers can continue to avoid any serious injuries in the next three weeks and hit the field September 9 in Minneapolis healthy and ready to roll.
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