Derek Carrier entered last Sunday’s game against Chicago without an NFL catch. The 49ers’ young tight end finished it with three for 41 yards and seems to have a good chance of adding to his tally this Sunday in Arizona.
That’s because the 49ers’ top two tight ends, Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald, missed their second consecutive day of practice Thursday, putting their availability for the game against the Cardinals in doubt.
Davis twice walked through the locker room with an exaggerated limp. He suffered a deep bruise on his right ankle in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game and, until Thursday, has been using crutches to get around.
That, combined with McDonald’s knee injury, points to a bigger role for Carrier, a wide receiver-turned-tight end who spent most of last season on the 49ers’ practice squad.
“He’s definitely an ascending player,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “There’s definitely things he needs to work on. But he’s done a nice job. He’s got a good feel for the passing game, has improved his blocking in the preseason. That was the No. 1 thing I’ve been most pleased with.”
Roman said Carrier was adept at finding soft spots in the defense, a skill he developed when he played wide receiver, and is good at using his body to block out defenders, which may come from Carrier’s background as a basketball player.
Carrier played basketball in high school and spent two years on the hardwood at Beloit College in Wisconsin. But when he realized he probably wasn’t going to excel as a 6-foot-4, 225-pound small forward, he dropped basketball and concentrated on playing receiver.
“I was outweighing everyone on the court by 30 pounds, and it was about time,” he said.
Now a tight end, he’s up to 250 pounds.
“A lot of the moves you have in basketball are similar – posting up,” Carrier said. “Being able to move with your feet and your hands translates onto the football field.”
The 49ers have two tight ends on the practice squad, Asante Cleveland and Xavier Grimble, that they could bring to the active roster before game time. They also could tap longsnapper Kyle Nelson, who proved in the preseason that he could fill in at tight end and who has been practicing there this week.
Still, it was the second consecutive year the 49ers quarterback has landed on the injury report following a Week 2 loss. Last year, he suffered a foot injury in Seattle. That issue, which Kaepernick said was a chipped bone on his forefoot and a ruptured capsule in the ball of his foot, prompted the 49ers to curtail his running plays while the injury healed.
It’s unknown what caused the current injury. Kaepernick took several shots, including a big one from Bears defensive end Jared Allen, during Sunday’s loss. He also was in on a tackle following one of his interceptions. Kaepernick was observed doing back exercises with a medicine ball prior to Thursday’s practice.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Smith, who dealt with a shoulder injury for all of the 2013 season, was back to his pre-injury form. He leads the 49ers with three sacks.