The 49ers expect to see much more of rookie running back Jeff Wilson Jr. against the Denver Broncos this Sunday.
Wilson, who led San Francisco with 134 yards from scrimmage in a 43-16 blowout loss to the Seahawks, is expected to carry the load again because incumbent starter Matt Breida is expected to sit with an ankle injury, coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday.
“Jeff played very well,” Shanahan said. “He earned that last week (at Tampa Bay), how he played.”
Breida hasn’t missed a game all season despite dealing with persistent ankle issues, and he tweaked his bothersome left ankle during pregame warmups. He played the first few series, but Wilson wound up getting the bulk of the playing time because Breida’s ankle worsened. Wilson played 55 snaps to Breida’s 10.
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Wilson was expected to play more anyway, Shanahan said, because of increased urgency he showed on the practice field since backup Raheem Mostert went on injured reserve Nov. 1 after fracturing his forearm in the win over the Raiders.
“He hits the hole and runs hard,” Shanahan said of Wilson. “He’s a very good zone runner. He doesn’t mess around. He sets his track and when he sees an open gap, he puts his foot down and goes north and south.”
Despite a slew of injuries to running backs, including expected starter Jerick McKinnon before the season opener, the 49ers head into Week 14 with the NFL’s seventh-ranked rushing attack, averaging 129 yards per game. Wilson is the latest 49ers running back who has played well at some point this season.
Shanahan said it was Wilson who sparked San Francisco’s offense in the second quarter Sunday when he lowered a shoulder and trucked Seahawks safety Tedric Thompson on an 11-yard run.
“I felt that kind of loosened everybody up a little bit,” Shanahan said.
Wilson put the 49ers in Seahawks territory for the first time two plays later with a 24-yard reception. But he was charged with a costly fumble at the 5-yard line when All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner ripped the ball away while making a tackle.
Shanahan contended Wilson was down, and it contributed to his frustration with the crew of head official Clete Blakeman throughout the game. Shanahan was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct in the third quarter after screaming an expletive at the side judge.
Shanahan explained Monday he was upset because Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw the shoe of linebacker Fred Warner eight yards behind the line of scrimmage. Warner went to get the shoe but was in danger of being called offside. Seeing that, backup Elijah Lee tried entering the game, but Wilson went to a no-huddle offense to get the snap off quickly, catching Lee offside.
“So we had a guy 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage trying to get his shoe that was thrown out of the way,” he said. “... That was icing on the cake right there. That was the tipping point, that penalty. There was definitely a number of other ones from earlier. That was a buildup.”
Goodwin returns, Garçon deals with injury – Shanahan said receiver Marquise Goodwin was back with the team during its meeting Monday and should play against Denver. He’s been away the past two games dealing with a personal matter.
Pierre Garçon hasn’t played since Nov. 1 because of a knee injury. He’s been able to practice but hasn’t been healthy enough to play. And because of Goodwin’s absence, Shanahan said he wanted to make sure he had healthy bodies available at wideout rather than give a roster spot to Garçon.
“Pierre’s in a situation where he’s ready to play on game day. He’ll do the things necessary to get out there ... and tough it out for us,” Shanahan said. “But I don’t want to do that at the expense of someone else. (We) would put him on (injured reserve) just to move forward, but (we) didn’t know Marquise’s status the last couple weeks. And when you got someone like Dante (Pettis) out there, he’s one snap away from getting hurt.”
The absences of Goodwin and Garçon have led to rookie Pettis emerging over the last two games. He logged three touchdowns on nine catches for 206 yards against the Buccaneers and Seahawks.
Pettis has typically played Goodwin’s “X” position but has also played in Garçon’s “Z” role, which might be necessary if Garçon misses his fourth straight game.
“He’s done it at all three (receiver positions) this year,” Shanahan said. “We’ve had to change him around almost each week. ... But Dante has the skill set to do all three of them. And ‘Quise, we prefer him outside the numbers, but he can go inside, too.”