49ers Jimmy Garoppolo talks third preseason game against the Chiefs
Kyle Shanahan believes this 49ers roster is the best he’s had since becoming coach in 2017. It should be, given the three offseasons he and general manager John Lynch have used to reconstruct the roster and develop players.
The improved talent level throughout the 90-man roster means San Francisco faces more difficult decisions when it’s pared to 53 during final cuts Aug. 31. It also means there could be players other teams covet in a trade.
“It’s something that’s stressing us out a little bit right now,” Shanahan said in a conference call Sunday, “because we’ve got a number of guys that we do like and that can play in this league. We all can see the numbers.”
The 49ers have depth at quarterback, running back, receiver and defensive line. There might be NFL-caliber players at those spots that don’t make the team, which is a good problem to have.
Shanahan said he hasn’t had discussions with other teams regarding trades, though the personnel department is likely going through that process ahead of the final preseason game Thursday against the Chargers.
“That’s what John (Lynch) and his group, they do all the time,” Shanahan said. “Even when you get calls, it heats up a little bit more around this time. Everyone kind of keeps in touch throughout training camp and there is dialogue going, but it does get a little more real right now. We’ll see what happens here over this next week.”
The 49ers the past two years made additions to their offensive line by dealing for guard Laken Tomlinson and tackle Shon Coleman during final cuts. They could be on the other side this year by trading players for draft capital.
Shanahan said Saturday the plan is to keep three quarterbacks on the active roster, meaning Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard would be on the team. But he also wouldn’t rule out moving one of Jimmy Garoppolo’s backups for the right offer, which would be true about any player on the fringe.
“If someone thinks there’s a way to upgrade our team, we’ll always listen,” he said.
The Colts could be calling around the league looking for quarterback help following Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement over the weekend. Same for the Broncos, who have former 49ers quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello at offensive coordinator, after losing rookie backup Drew Lock to a sprained thumb on his throwing hand in last week’s preseason game against San Francisco.
The 49ers appear to have eight receivers good enough to play in the league but only six or seven spots available. Trent Taylor’s foot injury that could cost him time early in the season complicates things. Taylor was arguably the team’s best receiver and Garoppolo’s favorite target throughout training camp.
Jordan Matthews and rookie Jalen Hurd have worked in the slot in Taylor’s absence, though Richie James Jr. has a team-high 11 catches for 111 yards in the preseason. Kendrick Bourne, another wideout battling to make the team, is second with five receptions for 66 yards.
At running back, a team needing depth might be interested in second-year pro Jeff Wilson Jr., who scored two touchdowns against the Chiefs. Wilson assuredly will have a big workload Thursday in his last preseason audition for the 49ers or someone else. He could also be a practice-squad candidate should he clear waivers, if he doesn’t make the team.
Jerick McKinnon’s injury will be an important factor during cuts. The team could start him on injured reserve and give him the return designation, allowing him to return after sitting out eight weeks to get his surgically repaired knee healthy.
But he would have to make the initial 53-man roster before going on IR, meaning any other player the 49ers might have in mind for his roster spot would be subject to waivers in the first 24 hours following cuts. San Francisco could only bring that player back after McKinnon is placed on IR.
Shanahan explains playing Pettis late
Shanahan has made it clear he wants to see more from 2018 second-round pick Dante Pettis, who again received fourth-quarter snaps in Saturday’s game. Pettis was on the field for 37 plays and made his first three catches of the preseason.
“He’s still trying to earn a role on this team, and he’s still trying to show us what he’s capable of doing consistently,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan has been tough on Pettis this summer. The former Washington Husky, of course, is expected to have a significant role in the offense after the team parted with veteran Pierre Garçon. Pettis is taking over Garçon’s “Z” role but doesn’t play with the same physical tenacity that was Garçon’s calling card.
Rookie second-round pick Deebo Samuel was the only receiver to get more playing time than Pettis against the Chiefs.
“Overall, I thought we did all right (at receiver),” Shanahan said after watching the film. “I’m always pretty hard on the receivers, though. I still think we need to keep doing better than we have been, though.”
Getting healthy for Week 1
The 49ers are getting several players back on the practice field this week as they prepare for the Sept. 8 season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The group is headlined by defensive end Dee Ford, who hasn’t practiced since the first week of camp because of knee tendinitis. The team said Ford could have played through his pain, but it was decided to keep him out as a precaution.
San Francisco also hopes starting center Weston Richburg will be activated off the physically unable to perform list following his long recovery from knee/quadriceps surgery early last offseason. Richburg has been ramping up his workouts, and Shanahan received a positive review from the training staff over the weekend as Richburg stayed at the team’s facility to rehab.
Others expected to return: tight end George Kittle (calf tightness), defensive lineman Ronald Blair III (groin), safety Adrian Colbert (hamstring), guard Joshua Garnett (dislocated finger), Hurd (back tightness), McKinnon (knee), linebacker Elijah Lee (thumb), running back Raheem Mostert (quad) and defensive tackle Jullian Taylor (back).
Shanahan didn’t have an update on rookie pass rusher Nick Bosa (sprained right ankle).
“He’s still rehabbing and doing well,” Shanahan said. “We know there’s a chance for him in Week 1, and that’s what we’re hoping for, but that would get a little bit more clear I think after this week.”