The status of tight end George Kittle is in doubt ahead of the 49ers’ home game Monday against the Seattle Seahawks.
Kittle suffered knee and ankle injuries on the first play of last Thursday’s road win against the Arizona Cardinals. He had an MRI on Friday.
“I mean, there’s issues,” coach Kyle Shanahan said Thursday. “He’s got things in his knee and ankle, so we’ll see.”
Shanahan said the decision on Kittle’s availability won’t be made until late this week. He didn’t participate in the bonus practice session Tuesday and wasn’t on the field Thursday, either. Kittle is most often available to media, but hasn’t been during the two open locker room sessions this week due to getting treatment.
“We know Kittle’s a very tough guy and that’s why he was able to come back in that game (in Arizona), but it’s something that we’re not going to know until the end of the week,” Shanahan said.
Kittle has missed just one game in three seasons. His rookie year in 2017 was marred with hip, hamstring, calf and ankle ailments which forced him to sit out a game. Last season he dealt with knee and chest issues, but appeared in all 16 games.
The tight end was listed with a groin injury last month before playing the Los Angeles Rams, when he recorded a season-high eight catches for 103 yards. Despite the injury last week, Kittle stayed in and had six catches for 79 yards and his second touchdown of the season. He said he left in the fourth quarter because he felt the injury made him a liability on the field.
Kittle is San Francisco’s leading pass catcher with 46 receptions for 541 yards. He’s on pace for a second consecutive 1,000-yard season after setting an NFL record for tight ends with 1,377 receiving yards.
An argument can be made Kittle is the 49ers’ most indispensable non-quarterback on offense. He’s widely regarded as one of the league’s best blocking tight ends and has been a critical member of the San Francisco’s No. 2-ranked rushing attack. Scouting service Pro Football Focus had Kittle as its highest-graded offensive player for most of the season.
“He brings a lot to the team,” quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “Even just his mindset, playing through what he played through in Arizona with the knee and ankle and all that stuff, he’s a tough dude. You’ve got to tip your hat to him. You love having a teammate like that. I’d have him in my foxhole any day.”
The 49ers don’t have much depth at tight end. Ross Dwelley would likely fill in, though he’s not nearly the same blocker and has just seven catches for 28 yards this season. Additionally, third-string tight end Levine Toilolo has been dealing with a groin issue in recent weeks, leading to a drop in his playing time. The 49ers have Daniel Helm, an undrafted rookie from Duke, on the practice squad.
Veteran Garrett Celek had his practice window opened this week after offseason back surgery to repair a herniated disk. He began the season on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. The 49ers have two weeks following Monday’s game to add Celek to the active roster or shut him down for the season.
The good news for San Francisco: left tackle Joe Staley (fractured fibula) and fullback Kyle Juszczyk (MCL sprain) are expected to play Monday. There’s also a chance right tackle Mike McGlinchey plays despite surgery last month on his torn meniscus. The 49ers haven’t had all three available since Week 2. Juszczyk and McGlinchey have missed four games.
“We’re hoping to get all three, but can’t guarantee any of them,” Shanahan said.
49ers sign new kicker
There’s a chance the 49ers won’t have kicker Robbie Gould available Monday. He suffered a quadriceps injury during practice Tuesday, Shanahan said, leading to the team signing rookie kicker Chase McLaughlin.
“I know that according to (general manager) John (Lynch) and all the guys upstairs and according to (special teams coordinator Richard) Hightower and our special teams guys, he’s the best one available,” Shanahan said. “I’m excited to have him here.”
Shanahan indicated Gould could play. If not, the injury isn’t expected to keep him out the following game against the Arizona Cardinals.
McLaughlin, 23, was waived by the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 29 after making 6 of 9 field-goal attempts and all seven extra points in four games. He was released after filling in for Michael Badgley, who missed the first eight games with a groin injury.
Gould had struggled this season, making a career-low 65 percent (13 of 20) field goals, though he’s made all 11 of his kicks the past two weeks since long snapper Kyle Nelson returned from suspension.
San Francisco released offensive tackle Sam Young to make room for McLaughlin. Young likely would have been inactive with the team expecting Staley to return.
Taylor’s return ‘not looking likely’
It doesn’t sound like wide receiver Trent Taylor is going to return from injured reserve due to complications during his rehab from foot surgery.
“It’s not looking likely right now,” Shanahan said.
Taylor was placed on injured reserve Sept. 20 after it was initially believed he’d return early following an August surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his foot. He was first eligible to have his practice window opened this week and play Nov. 24 against the Green Bay Packers, but complications could cost Taylor the season.
“If he was able to come back 100 percent healthy, there’s no doubt we’d bring Trent back,” Shanahan said. “But, he’s had some setbacks in his injury. He had an infection with it, too, so he had to start that over. It’s just cost him some time.”
Jalen Hurd is eligible to return to the practice field next week after suffering a fracture in his back in August. The earliest he could appear in a game is Dec. 1 at the Baltimore Ravens. Hurd was seen Tuesday doing some conditioning.
“We’ll see how this week goes and we’ll make that decision next week,” Shanahan said. “If he’s not ready by then, he’ll be week-to-week to give him that chance to open up that three-week window.”
Carroll endorses Saleh
Coordinator Robert Saleh has become a popular name for the next head coaching cycle, given how his defense has improved in his third year.
San Francisco enters Monday with the league’s top-ranked passing defense, allowing 131.7 yards per game, and an opponents’ quarterback rating of 65.7, second only to the New England Patriots.
Carroll indicated Thursday he believes Saleh deserves a chance at becoming a head coach.
“He’s a very bright coach,” Carroll said in a media conference call. “He’s a really first-class individual. He’s got really good strength of character and his leadership qualities are obviously in display now. There’s no doubt. No doubt. We’ve had some really good guys over the years that are in those positions and he’s certainly one of them.”
Saleh was hired by Carroll to become a quality control coach in 2011 before joining Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley on the Jacksonville Jaguars staff when Bradley was hired as head coach in 2013. Saleh spent three years as the Jaguars’ linebackers coach before being hired by the 49ers.