It’s been an eventful year for Daniel Brunskill.
The former tight end at San Diego State spent February and March playing for the San Diego Fleet of the now-defunct Allegiance of American Football. He had a workout with the 49ers and signed a contract April 12.
It seemed likely Brunskill, who converted to offensive line late in college, would compete for a spot on the practice squad, where he spent 2018 with the Atlanta Falcons. But he played well enough throughout training camp at guard and showed the versatility to play tackle to make San Francisco’s 53-man roster.
He made it over more notable players like former first-round draft pick Joshua Garnett and Najee Toran, who had NFL experience under their belts while Brunskill had never appeared in a regular season game.
In just over two months, Brunskill, 25, went from roster hopeful to starter against the defending NFC champions.
He’ll take the place of starting right tackle Mike McGlinchey, who had arthroscope surgery Thursday to repair the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. He’s expected to be out six to eight weeks, which means Brunskill is expected to hold up at a crucial position until mid November starting Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.
“(It’s) definitely surreal, yeah,” Brunskill said Thursday.
It’s an unlikely story that’s made possible mostly because of injuries. The 49ers have already been without starting left tackle Joe Staley for the past two games after sustaining a fractured fibula Week 2. He’s been replaced by rookie sixth-round draft pick Justin Skule, who has seemingly played well in Staley’s stead. “Swing” tackle Shon Coleman was lost for the year in the first preseason game with a broken ankle.
Brunskill, essentially, is San Francisco’s fifth option at tackle. He was never expected to be playing. But the same could be said for his college career. He never received a scholarship offer heading into college after playing at Valley Center High School outside of San Diego. He walked on at San Diego State before eventually getting a full-ride entering his red-shirt junior season, his fourth year on campus.
“I didn’t know much about him until he got here in OTAs and training camp,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said this week. “Got to see him then and I became a believer in him. He was number 61 for a while for me and then he became Brunskill because he was low on the radar as it started out, but he earned his spot on this team.”
Added Brunskill: “I’m glad I was able to make him learn my name. That was awesome.”
Brunskill made his NFL debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sept. 22 during the fourth quarter. He was in for two plays while McGlinchey was out of the game to fix his shoe. The 49ers decided to call the same run to Raheem Mostert behind Brunskill on back to back plays that went for 19 and 6 yards, respectively.
Brunskill was noticeably animated while getting his first NFL action, throwing key blocks during an important moment in a close game.
“The adrenaline was pumping,” he said. “I was pretty fired up just to get out there. So when I came off I had a whole bunch of energy. Just running around on the sideline.”
Said Shanahan: “He did a real good job. That’s why he was on the team. That’s why he wasn’t on practice squad and when he got in there for (two plays) versus Pittsburgh and did a hell of a job, got to play a little bit two nights ago versus Cleveland, very similar to (Justin) Skule in that the game is not too big for him, he’s very efficient, he’s a smart player. He will get the job done and he will be ready for the challenge on third down.”
Robbie Gould vows to fix kicking mistakes
The 49ers’ kicking issues have flown under the radar because they have not cost the team any wins to date. But kicker Robbie Gould is clearly frustrated with missing five of his 12 attempts this season. Those five misses are more than his previous two seasons with San Francisco combined. Gould came into the year having made 72 of 73 since signing in 2017.
“This is by far the worst I’ve ever kicked,” Gould said Thursday. “But I got to go back and look at film, which I’ve done, and I got to figure it out, you know? I haven’t missed this many kicks in this many weeks in my entire career.”
Part of the issue could be the team’s shuffling at long snapper. The 49ers have had three long snappers during the first four games. Colin Holba appeared in the first two before he was replaced by Jon Condo, who played in the Steelers game before announcing his sudden retirement, which led to San Francisco signing Garrison Sanborn.
Gould missed three of his four attempts Monday against Cleveland, which proved to be immaterial in the 31-3 blowout. Sanborn appeared to have one bad snap of Gould’s three misses, while one was pushed to the right and another was blocked.
Gould said the turnover at long snapper isn’t a reason for his struggles after signing a four-year, $19 million contract in the offseason that makes him one of the league’s highest paid kickers.
“You probably get 12 reps (in practice) before you go out there and play,” Gould said. “So those guys have come in and done a great job and I just haven’t done my job. Obviously, I got to do that to help the team win and just lucky the errors I’ve made over the last two weeks haven’t cost us a game.”
The 49ers are expecting their preferred long snapper, Kyle Nelson, to return after two more games to complete his 10-game suspension handed down last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
▪ There were no changes to the 49ers injury report Thursday. Pass rusher Dee Ford was a limited participant with his knee injury. Those that didn’t practice: Staley (fibula), McGlinchey (knee), cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (foot) and fullback Kyle Juszczyk (knee).
▪ Rams running back Todd Gurley’s status for Sunday’s game appears to be in doubt because of a quadriceps issue. It’s the first time this season Gurley’s been listed on the injury report.
Also absent were cornerback Aqib Talib (ribs) and pass rusher Clay Matthews, who’s expected to miss multiple games after breaking his jaw in the last game against the Seahawks.
Limited: receiver Brandin Cooks (concussion), linebacker Bryce Hager (shoulder), linebacker Natrez Patrick (hamstring) and rookie safety Taylor Rapp (ankle).