Kyle Shanahan has fewer training camp battles to parse through this summer than last, when he and John Lynch overhauled the 49ers roster in the first year of their tenures, remaking the 2-14 club they inherited.
This summer, the only starting job in question is at right guard, and it appears the competition is still evolving ahead of the exhibition finale Thursday against the Chargers.
Joshua Garnett, the 2016 first-round pick out of Stanford, appears to be back in the mix after recovering from a knee injury that put his chances in jeopardy. Garnett and his chief competition for the starting spot, veteran Mike Person, both played 27 snaps in Saturday’s preseason loss to the Colts.
“I thought Josh played really well,” Shanahan said on a conference call Sunday. “I think he’s moving better, just getting more comfortable for obvious reasons. He’s been out there getting a lot more reps.”
It was Garnett’s second game back since suffering the injury on the third session of training camp, missing two weeks of practice and the exhibition opener. He played more snaps than any other guard (35) in the second exhibition game in Houston during his first game action since Shanahan was hired.
Garnett suffered a contusion to the same right knee that required surgery last August before missing the entire season. As a prospect at Stanford, he was known for his mauling blocking style in the Cardinals’ power running game.
But it was unclear how well he would fit in Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme after being brought in by former general manager Trent Baalke to play for former coach Chip Kelly.
The new coaching staff and front office determined last summer that Garnett was better off sitting out the 2017 season following his knee operation to reshape his body and become more nimble. He lost roughly 20 pounds in the transition.
“I think his assignments and everything were much better, and I was really pleased with how he played in the game,” Shanahan said.
The 49ers will sit the majority of their starters in Thursday’s preseason finale. But Garnett could see more action to help Shanahan and his coaching staff finalize their starting five offensive linemen.
Person has been given most of the starting reps at right guard by default given the injuries to Garnett and newcomer Jonathan Cooper, who signed a one-year contract in the offseason after a career year starting 15 games for the Cowboys. Another good showing from Garnett could tip the scales back in his favor.
Cooper, meanwhile, played just 17 snaps late in Saturday’s loss and is still finding his bearings after offseason knee surgery. He still could find himself in the mix, though it appears that won’t come until later in the season when he’s further removed from the injury.
Shanahan not frustrated with Ward’s injury woes
Defensive back Jimmie Ward has shown signs of promise since he was tapped with the 30th overall pick in the 2014 draft. But his career has been derailed by injuries, overshadowing whatever optimism the 49ers might have.
Ward left Saturday’s game with a quadriceps injury after playing only two special teams snaps. That came after he missed June OTAs with an ankle injury and time during training camp with a tweaked hamstring. Ward’s 2017 season was limited to seven games due to a fractured forearm.
Still, Shanahan isn’t frustrated with Ward as his laundry list of ailments continues to grow.
“I wouldn’t say it’s frustration because then that would be a negative toward Jimmie. It’s just unfortunate,” Shanahan said. “Jimmie works really hard and I love Jimmie as a player.”
Ward won’t play Thursday, though Shanahan expects him to be back in time for Week 1’s trip to play Minnesota.
“He’s very tough and he has gotten hurt a lot, but I don’t question any of those (injuries),” said Shanahan. “Jimmie throws his body around, he works very hard and he’s just been very unfortunate. I feel for him because I know he’s as frustrated with it as anyone. Hopefully this quad thing won’t be too long because if it’s not, we expect him to help us out a lot this year just like he did last year when he was healthy and just like he did before we got here when he was healthy.”
Shanahan said receivers Dante Pettis (bruised knee) and Aaron Burbridge (hamstring) won’t play against the Chargers. Linebacker Reuben Foster, who left Saturday’s game with a head injury, is in the league’s concussion protocol and his status is uncertain. Same goes for reserve tackle Garry Gilliam, who hasn’t played since suffering a concussion in the preseason opener against the Cowboys.