The 49ers will be without another starter for the rest of this lost season, joining quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and running back Jerick McKinnon on the shelf.
Second-year safety Adrian Colbert was placed on season-ending injured reserve Monday after he suffered a right high-ankle sprain in the second half of Sunday’s loss to the Rams.
It’s expected to be a six-to-eight-week injury, coach Kyle Shanahan said, and he’s unlikely to be given the return designation, which would allow him to come back for the last two games against the Chicago Bears and Rams.
The 49ers have used rookie D.J. Reed Jr. at free safety throughout the early portion of the season while Colbert dealt with a hip injury in September and after he left Sunday’s game.
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Jimmie Ward, a 2014 first-round draft pick, could be moved to free safety, where he played last season before being moved to cornerback in the spring. But he missed Sunday’s game with a hamstring strain suffered during the previous Monday night loss to the Green Bay Packers.
“We’ll look into all options,” Shanahan said of finding Colbert’s replacement. “We’ll see that as practice goes throughout this week. We got to see if Jimmie Ward is ready to practice anyways this week - he’s coming off his hamstring (injury). D.J. Reed will have the first chance.”
The 49ers tapped Reed in the fifth round of the recent NFL draft out of Kansas State, where he played predominately outside as a traditional cornerback. He’s been used by San Francisco in the slot as the primary backup to K’Waun Williams as well as the deep free safety. He’s listed at 5-foot-9 but is known for his tenacity and physical play.
“When he’s had his opportunity, D.J. plays very hard,” Shanahan said. “He goes in there, he runs and hits. He’s done some good things. He’s still a rookie and he needs to play more. I know he’ll have some learning curves as he does that. The game’s not too big for him and he’s a guy we do believe in.”
Colbert emerged as a starter late last season after he was drafted in the seventh round primarily for his work on special teams. His play was so encouraging he displaced Ward as the starting free safety entering this season, but he got off to a rough start, as many of the club’s 2017 draftees have during the 1-6 start.
Shanahan said he thought Colbert had one of his best games against the Rams before suffering the injury, which required being carted off the field before returning to the sideline to support his teammates.
He appeared to be in position for an interception on a deep throw up the left sideline early in the third quarter, but he collided with cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon and fell awkwardly on his right leg as the pass fell incomplete.
“We had a challenge for him the last few weeks,” Shanahan said. “I thought in this (Rams) game he covered sideline to sideline very well, just running and hitting. He made a real good play on the play he got hurt on also.
“It’s tough. It’s part of football, though. It’s not the first time it’s happened. Colbert’s one of those guys last year that got his opportunity because a lot of guys went down. He was one of the guys that the second half of the year we got to watch grow - go through some trial and error but ended up playing at a very high level last year, (which) made us very excited about going into this year with him.”
Shanahan said quarterback Tom Savage, who was released Saturday to make room for defensive back Tyvis Powell, will be brought back to the active roster to take Colbert’s place.
Rookie sixth-round pick Marcell Harris is eligible to return off injured reserve before the 49ers play the Raiders on Thursday night, Nov. 1. Harris is working back from a hamstring injury suffered during training camp and played predominately strong safety in college.