The 49ers are weighing their options to replace left tackle Joe Staley, who’s going to be out six to eight weeks after fracturing his fibula in the third quarter of Sunday’s blowout victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, Kyle Shanahan confirmed Monday.
The six-time Pro Bowler is expected to return in November, leaving a sizable void at a key position on offense.
The in-house option, and perhaps the most likely candidate to replace Staley in Sunday’s home opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, is rookie sixth-round pick Justin Skule, who made the team despite taking his expected lumps throughout training camp and the preseason. Skule played 19 second-half snaps Sunday after the game was out of hand.
Shanahan was asked Monday what he liked about the rookie.
“Just the game’s not too big for him. That’s what we liked a lot about him, being a four-year starter in the SEC at Vanderbilt,” Shanahan said. “He got to play against a lot of good players always throughout an entire game. He played the whole game pretty well. Wasn’t always a ton of great highlight-tape plays, but he’s a guy the game wasn’t too big for and helped his team win.”
But San Francisco could be aggressive in finding a more viable and established replacement for Staley elsewhere in a trade. After all, the 49ers are 2-0 for the first time since 2012, when they last went to the Super Bowl, and protecting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is imperative as he works back from last year’s season-ending ACL tear.
The 49ers have their bye Week 4 following Sunday’s game, which could give them time to evaluate the position if Skule starts against Pittsburgh. The team would have until the trade deadline Oct. 29 to make a deal.
“We would love to (trade) if there were options,” Shanahan said. “You look at anything that’s possible. I don’t think there’s a ton of great options out there that are possible.”
Shanahan won’t switch Mike McGlinchey from right tackle to the left side, he said, even though McGlinchey played left tackle at Notre Dame and is widely considered the long-term replacement for Staley when the 35-year-old inevitably retires. Additionally, moving McGlinchey would unsettle both tackle spots, rather than just one while finding Staley’s replacement.
The 49ers have been aggressive in improving their team in Year 3 of the Shanahan and John Lynch regime. They traded a second-round pick to Kansas City for pass rusher Dee Ford in the spring and signed him to a five-year, $85.5 million contract, making him the team’s most expensive defensive player. They also were engaged in trade talks for Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. before he was traded to Cleveland.
The front office will also bring in free agents this week for workouts, Shanahan said, which could include Sam Young, a nine-year veteran who was released during final cuts. Young was initially brought in to replace “swing” tackle Shon Coleman, who sustained a season-ending fractured ankle and broken fibula early in the preseason.
Ford has a setback
The knee tendinitis that kept Ford from participating in the preseason and most of practice throughout August popped up again in Cincinnati, Shanahan said, putting his status for Sunday’s game in doubt. Ford reported the pain to the training staff at halftime and didn’t return in the second half.
“He’s still hurting today,” said Shanahan. “We’ll see how he is for practice on Wednesday. I don’t have anything new to update today, but practice will definitely be in question for Wednesday.”
Ford played 25 snaps and was credited for an assisted tackle, yet San Francisco’s defense still played well against the Bengals. It only allowed 10 points through the first 59 minutes before Andy Dalton found receiver John Brown for a long score with a minute left against backups.
But there was some good news regarding San Francisco’s defensive ends. Nick Bosa came out of the game healthier Sunday than he did the previous week in Tampa Bay, when right ankle soreness prevented him from practicing Wednesday and Thursday before playing the Bengals. Bosa had a handful of pressures against Dalton but didn’t register a defensive statistic during his 31 snaps.
“Sometimes when you come back with a high ankle sprain you always get a few setbacks in those games,” Shanahan said. “I know he did versus Tampa, but he didn’t complain of any yesterday. Didn’t play as much. We were playing him less on purpose and then we took out most of our starters there in the fourth quarter. I think it worked out well. He was able to affect the game and get out healthier than he did the week before.”
Another long trip coming
Shanahan said after more deliberation the team will try to stay in the Eastern time zone between Week 13 and 14 games against the Ravens and Steelers after having success staying in Youngstown, Ohio in the lead up to Sunday’s game.
It’s likely the team would find a place to practice closer to New Orleans than a return trip to Youngstown, where it would likely be cold before playing in a controlled climate inside the Super Dome.
“I don’t really care where we stay, just as long it’s the East Coast time,” said Shanahan. “That’s pretty much the only thing to me that would matter. I know it was a big deal, we didn’t want to stay in Florida after the Tampa game because we didn’t want to be in the heat all week. Even though the humidity and heat followed us to Youngstown, but it shouldn’t be as big of an issue in December, so I think we’ll gave more options. We’ll see what (director of team logistics Steve Risser) Riss and (team logistics manager Mike) Slap come up with.”