5 takeaways: 49ers preseason opener vs. Dallas Cowboys
The 49ers’ young receivers grabbed headlines for showing signs of promise in Saturday night’s 17-9 preseason victory over the Dallas Cowboys, but coach Kyle Shanahan still didn’t sound happy with his youthful receiving corps overall.
“I want someone to step it up,” Shanahan said on a conference call Sunday.
Third-round draft pick Jalen Hurd scored the 49ers’ two touchdowns and showed glimpses of why the team is high on him despite only playing the position for one season in college. He used his big, physical frame to muscle through two defenders at the goal line and plucked a ball over 6-foot-2 cornerback Tyvis Powell on a fade route for his second score.
But after reviewing the game tape, Shanahan saw more of what’s bothered him throughout training camp with his group of wideouts.
“The rookies, they made some good plays last night, but they also weren’t very consistent either,” Shanahan said. “There were lots of parts of their game that they have to clean up, and I thought it was very similar for the veterans, too.”
Second-round pick Deebo Samuel made a highlight-worthy 45-yard grab while leaping over a defender with a hand in his face — and he showed off his ability with the ball in his hands during an impressive 14-yard reverse in the second quarter. But it remains to be seen if he can learn the nuances of his position to fill the void left by veteran Pierre Garçon with a month before the regular-season opener.
Perhaps the most head-scratching member of the group is 2017 second-round pick Dante Pettis, who was forced to play Saturday while 28 teammates — mostly starters or players with key roles already solidified — sat out to avoid injury.
“I wanted him to compete. We’re trying to see who our starting receivers are, and I wanted to get him a chance to get out there,” Shanahan said Saturday. “... Dante has a lot of room to grow. He can still get a lot better. So can a lot of the other guys.”
Pettis played 17 offensive snaps and was the return man on two punts. He went without a catch while a Cowboys defender broke up his lone target for quarterback Nick Mullens in the first quarter.
Second-year pro Richie James Jr. led San Francisco’s receivers with five catches but had just 31 yards. Samuel led in yardage with 61 on two grabs. Running back Austin Walter had five receptions. Hurd could have a chance at significant playing time early this season because slot receiver Trent Taylor had surgery to repair a “Jones fracture,” involving the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot.
The 49ers have three preseason games left. Franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to start the next two and get plenty of reps when San Francisco travels to have joint practices with the Denver Broncos on Friday and Saturday ahead of their exhibition Monday night.
At some point, Shanahan needs to see receivers emerge beyond making splashy plays against backups in the preseason.
“We got a bunch of guys who can play,” Shanahan said. “(But) I want someone who makes the decision easy for us. I want someone to take the job and make it to where it’s extremely obvious. And we haven’t had that yet. We have a bunch of young guys who are extremely hungry and who are going for it. And we got some other guys who have been here who have also been that way. But I think guys are evenly matched right now.”
Tryout at tackle
Shanahan confirmed the 49ers will place reserve offensive tackle Shon Coleman on season-ending injured reserve Monday. He had surgery Sunday to repair a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle.
That means San Francisco could use reinforcements at tackle behind starters Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey. The 49ers spent Sunday making a list of possible candidates to bring in, which could include Garry Gilliam, who was released in the offseason after serving as the “swing” tackle the last two seasons while appearing in 24 games.
“I was happy with Garry and how he was here,” Shanahan said. “He didn’t get to play much for us, but there’s a number of guys out there. I know John and his crew upstairs are putting together a list, and that’s stuff we’ll happen to be discussing today. We’ll look at it throughout the night and think we’ll make a decision on that (Monday).”
— Shanahan said linebacker Elijah Lee, who replaced Reuben Foster following his release last season, suffered a thumb injury that required surgery Sunday. He’s expected to be sidelined for two weeks, which should give him enough time to get healthy for the regular season. Lee is a safe bet to make the 53-man roster as a backup and core special-teams player.
— Jimmie Ward, who’s been out since May after fracturing his collarbone, will have X-rays this week to determine if he’s able to return to practice ahead of the trip to Denver. Ward was activated off the physically unable to perform list July 30 so he could participate in walk-throughs. Ward is the favorite to start at free safety. Second-year pro Tarvarius Moore has been playing with the first string.
— Defensive tackle D.J. Jones suffered a knee sprain and is “week to week,” Shanahan said. Running back Raheem Mostert is in concussion protocol after sustaining a head injury in the first half. Safety Marcell Harris left the game with a stinger but is expected to be fine when the team returns to practice Tuesday. Guard Najee Toran had precautionary X-rays on his hand that revealed no injury. Toran started at right guard Saturday and has a chance to make the team as a reserve.