San Francisco 49ers

49ers Notebook: Matthews making strong push for roster spot, Kittle returns to practice

5 takeaways: San Francisco 49ers preseason vs. Denver Broncos

The San Francisco 49ers took on the Denver Broncos in a preseason game on Aug. 19, 2019.
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The San Francisco 49ers took on the Denver Broncos in a preseason game on Aug. 19, 2019.

Preseason workloads can often be an indicator of where players stand in their competitions to make the roster. For 49ers receiver Jordan Matthews, the signs may be pointing in the right direction.

Matthews played just five snaps on offense in Monday’s Week 2 preseason game against the Denver Broncos, nearly all coming with Jimmy Garoppolo and the starters in the game, which could bode well for his chances to make the team when rosters are trimmed from 90 players to 53 on Aug. 31.

Kyle Shanahan was asked if Matthews’ limited snap count was an indication he’s on track to make the team amid a convoluted battle among wide receiver candidates.

“That’s an indication that we feel very good about we know what Jordan is. Jordan’s had a hell of a camp,” Shanahan said. “He’s been very consistent in training camp and we’ve seen him a lot on tape before he got here. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Jordan and I know we can win with Jordan.”

Matthews’ chances might have increased when slot receiver Trent Taylor went down with a Jones fracture days before the first preseason game against the Cowboys. Matthews has been the next man up in Taylor’s “F” receiver position, which most often aligns in the slot, though Matthews (6-3) is 7 inches taller than Taylor (5-8) and offers a different skill set as a bigger, more physical presence.

The former second-round draft pick of the Eagles is the most accomplished receiver on the team. He has 3,255 receiving yards on 270 receptions and 22 touchdowns during his five seasons.

Matthews in 2017 was traded from Philadelphia to the Buffalo Bills with a third-round pick for cornerback Ronald Darby. He had thumb and knee injuries after playing in 10 games and landed on injured reserve. He returned to the Eagles to play in 14 games last season after failing to stick with the New England Patriots over the summer following a hamstring injury.

With the 49ers, Matthews has earned his keep as a veteran voice in the receiver room who sets the tone with his professional approach.

“I’ve been able to get my body in the best shape I’ve been in since college, honestly. I feel great,” Matthews told The Bee. “The offense is awesome to play in. I really feel like, now, I’m hearing everything in the huddle so I can play a lot faster. Coaches have put me in a lot of good positions to go out there and do what I do best.”

Matthews has been targeted just twice in two preseason games, though that could be by design. He made one of the more important catches of the two joint practices with the Broncos last week, hauling in a contested grab from Garoppolo that put San Francisco in range for a “game-winning” 55-yard field goal from Robbie Gould as a two-minute drill expired.

“Our receivers,” Garoppolo said, “they’re asked to do a lot of tough things, blocking in the run game, details on routes, motions and all that stuff. He’s done a good job picking up quickly. ... He works as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen, so you’ve got to tip your hat to him on that.”

The only locks to make the roster at receiver appear to be Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd, Marquise Goodwin and Taylor, leaving Matthews, Kendrick Bourne and Richie James Jr. to compete for the final one or two spots.

If Matthews continues his work as the de facto starter in the slot in Taylor’s place Saturday in Kansas City in the third preseason game, it could be another indication Matthews is headed the right direction.

Kittle returns to practice

Shanahan said before practice he wasn’t expecting George Kittle to practice Friday, which would have marked the second full week Kittle would have missed with a slight calf injury. But Shanahan was wrong – Kittle was back on the practice field Thursday participating in individual drills open to reporters.

Kittle told the Bee last week in Denver he would be playing and practicing if it were the regular season, but San Francisco is operating with caution regarding it’s most dynamic pass catcher.

“If he was 100 percent he would be going, but it’s not something we’re very concerned about,” Shanahan said. “Doing the traveling and short week and stuff, I know he could push it today, but it’s still bothering him a little bit so we are being cautious.”

It remains highly unlikely Kittle will suit up Saturday against the Chiefs, leaving Levine Toilolo, Ross Dwelley, Kaden Smith and Tyree Mayfield to compete to fill out the tight end group.

Safety Jimmie Ward returned to participating in team drills this week, Shanahan said, marking the first time he’s worked at free safety in 11-on-11s since suffering his fractured collar bone in May. Ward is competing with Tarvarius Moore for the starting free safety spot and Shanahan said, “we expect him to play this week.”

Pass rusher Dee Ford (knee tendinitis), defensive end Nick Bosa (ankle), running back Jerick McKinnon (ACL recovery), safety Adrian Colbert (hamstring), linebacker Elijah Lee (hand), defensive lineman Jullian Taylor (back), receiver Trent Taylor (foot), corner Jason Verrett (ankle) and defensive back K’Waun Williams (knee) did not practice.

Safety Jaquiski Tartt was back practicing after missing Wednesday’s session due to a personal matter.

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