The 49ers were a remarkably healthy team in 2011. In the ensuing seasons, however, the injury bug bit deeper and deeper into the roster until the point last year when 15 players ended the season on injured reserve. Even more players ended the season on other injury lists.
As the roll call below shows, many of those players are back, especially young players who are jockeying for playing time and for a spot on the final roster. That group includes all five 2014 draft picks who never suited up last year.
CB Kenneth Acker. He suffered a stress fracture in his foot last summer and went on IR before the regular season began. Acker was a sixth-round pick last year and looked good during the preseason. He has been full go for the offseason and is one of several young players jockeying for a spot at cornerback.
LB NaVorro Bowman. He's the most critical player returning from an injury, both from a talent and symbolic standpoint. The 49ers have lost a number of high-end players -- Frank Gore, Justin Smith, Patrick Willis being the most prominent. Bowman, on the other hand, was lost last year and is coming back. As is the case with any player who has missed a full season, Bowman is dealing with soreness and must get his explosion back. But the 49ers seem to be very pleased with what they've seen from him so far.
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TE Derek Carrier. He went on injured reserve last season with a foot injury and was in a walking boot last week. The recent injury is only a sprain and Carrier may be out two weeks or so. He showed flashes in his brief appearances last season and the 49ers are looking at him as a possible pass-catching replacement for Vernon Davis, who is in the final year of his contract.
TE Garrett Celek. He missed the first 11 games of 2014 with a back injury (disc surgery), returned and then went on IR with an ankle injury. Back injuries always are a concern, especially when your job mostly entails line-of-scrimmage blocking. Still, Celek reported that his back felt as good as new almost immediately following the surgery and he's shown no ill effects this offseason.
CB Chris Cook. He suffered a freak hamstring injury at a time last season when he seemed to be ready to step into more meaningful role at cornerback. Cook stands out among the deep group of cornerbacks because of his size. And if the 49ers want to incorporate more aggressive, press-coverage into their defense, he seems like a good fit. He looked very good in training camp and the preseason last year and will try to duplicate that success this year.
DE Darnell Dockett. He suffered an ACL tear with the Cardinals last August, and with so many young linemen to sort through, the 49ers will not rush him back onto the field. In fact, it will be interesting to see whether the 49ers put him on the physically-unable-to-perform list to start the season.
DL Glenn Dorsey. He says he's over the biceps tear that cost him the 2014 season but he has not yet re-joined practices. The 49ers are eying him at right defensive end on base downs. But because he's one of the few linemen with plenty of playing experience, there is no rush to get him on the field in May.
RB Kendall Hunter. He leaped out at last week's practice more than anyone. (I wish I had filmed Hunter during this running backs drill; he hit the tackling dummy so hard it nearly split in two). If he's not 100 percent recovered from last summer's ACL tear, he's very close. Hunter came back strong from a 2012 Achilles' tear and appears to have put the same dedication into returning from his knee injury.
WR Chuck Jacobs. He's coming back from an ACL injury suffered in the 2014 training camp. Jacobs has been taking part in practices and looked good on Thursday in snagging a touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick.
C Daniel Kilgore. He is still rehabilitating from the lower leg fracture he suffered in Denver in October. As Ian Williams' ankle/leg fracture in 2013 showed, the injury can be complicated and the 49ers will take their time with his return. Still, the sense is that Kilgore, who was playing well at the time of his injury, will regain his starting spot. That would allow Marcus Martin to compete at left guard.
TE Vance McDonald. He suffered a back injury last season that eventually landed him on injured reserve. The injury, however, has not seemed to hinder him this offseason as he has been fully participating in all of the drills. The 49ers are suddenly loaded at tight end, and it's possible the position will change dramatically in the coming year. The pressure is on for McDonald, who has yet to play up to his second-round status, to deliver in 2015.
FB Trey Millard. He is one of several 2014 draft picks who suffered an ACL injury in college. As the video clip above shows, Millard has recovered from his injury. He also has benefited from starting fullback Bruce Miller's absence. Miller is dealing with an ongoing legal matter and has been in Georgia this offseason. That means that Millard is the only fullback on hand.
DL Kaleb Ramsey. A seventh-round pick in 2014, Ramsey spent last season on the PUP list. Ramsey is one of nine defensive lineman currently on the roster who are 25 years old or younger. In other words, there will be plenty of competition for a roster spot this offseason and through training camp.
CB Keith Reaser. Of all the young cornerbacks on the roster, perhaps Reaser is the most intriguing. He has track-star speed to go along with good size. The 2014 fifth-round pick was playing both on the outside and at nickel cornerback during last week's OTA practice and reportedly has looked very good so far. He is coming off of ACL issues but seems to have retained his speed.
G Brandon Thomas. There's an open competition to replace Mike Iupati at left guard and Thomas is in the mix. He was not playing with the first-team unit on Thursday, the day the media were able to observe practice last week, but he has been in that spot in previous practices. Thomas is not quite as physically imposing as Iupati, but at 6-3, 3-17, he still has impressive size.
NB Jimmie Ward. He was drafted with a foot injury, then reinjured the foot Nov. 9 in New Orleans. Because of that, the 49ers are taking their time with his return in an effort to make sure the foot fully heals. Ward has not yet taken part in any offseason practices.
NT Ian Williams. He suffered back-to-back broken legs in 2013 and 2014, although the last injury was not as serious as the first and Williams has been taking part in offseason practices. Williams got a nice mention last week from Justin Smith, who said Williams was one of the more underrated linemen in the league. That sentiment is bolstered by the fact that the 49ers are looking at him as the starter at nose tackle this year despite having several players who can man the position.