The 49ers rested nearly all their defensive starters in the first preseason game over the weekend, in part, because they want to do everything in their power to field healthy players for Week 1.
But without Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Ronald Blair, their top five pass rushers who have all missed time during training camp with varying injuries, San Francisco might have a hard time hitting the ground running when the games start to count.
“As a coach I’m always paranoid,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Tuesday. “... To me, you’ve got a new D-Line coach, you’ve got new nuances to different techniques that he’s teaching especially from a game standpoint when you’re working with a three technique and you’re trying to create that continuity. That stuff, to me, is important.”
Armstead returned to practice Tuesday after missing a handful of practices with a calf injury. Bosa’s status remains unclear ahead of the season opener – though his sprained right ankle Tuesday didn’t prevent him from riding a stationary bike on the sideline. Ford hasn’t participated since the first week of training camp due to knee tendinitis and Blair remains out because of a lingering groin injury.
The 49ers have a largely new group operating a new scheme focused on “Wide 9” alignments. And they also have a new position coach in Kris Kocurek, which creates a steeper learning curve than normal, particularly given how often San Francisco plans on using two-man fronts and other tactics that require pass rushing chemistry.
It’s never good to have key players miss practice time with injury, though the timing of these ailments comes at the apex of training camp, as the 49ers travel for a pair of joint practices against the Denver Broncos on Friday and Saturday.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan has said he values practices far more than preseason games and the joint sessions against the Broncos could be particularly valuable. It’s likely the 49ers would sit the bulk of their starters when the two clubs square off Monday night. Then San Francisco faces a short turnaround before for a Saturday game in Kansas City.
Their final preseason game is the following Thursday, marking three exhibition contests in a span of 11 days. It’s likely Shanahan will have just two practices before traveling to Kansas City and perhaps just one ahead of the finale.
“Do I think it will hinder us from still being able to get after the passer? No, I don’t think it will be too bad,” Saleh said. “I feel like there’s going to be an adjustment in terms of, we’re going to have a high ceiling once those guys get back of trying to master those techniques and master the relationship they have with one another so they can operate at a very high level.”
But Saleh did point out some of the league’s best players don’t participate in training camp and still play well.
“Aaron Donald comes out and doesn’t skip a beat,” he said “Joey Bosa’s missed time, doesn’t skip a beat.”
More practice time missed
▪ Tight end George Kittle missed Tuesday’s practice because of calf tightness, the 49ers said.
▪ Rookie receiver Deebo Samuel, who impressed during his preseason debut against Dallas, was given an excused absence for personal reasons.
▪ Quarterback C.J. Beathard didn’t participate after banging his right hand into a helmet Satruday. Tight end Levin Toilolo missed practice and the reasoning was undisclosed.
▪ Linebacker Malcolm Smith returned to team drills following a hamstring injury.
▪ Running back Jeff Wilson Jr. returned to the field after dealing with a calf strain. Defensive back Jimmie Ward wore a helmet and stretched with his teammates for the first time since fracturing his collar bone in May. But he didn’t wear pads or participate in team drills.