Daniel Kilgore squat-lifted 500 pounds of iron Monday morning, and the 49ers center has been tossing around wooden blocking sleds and knocking over plastic dummies the last few weeks.
But he said there’s no substitute for slamming into and grappling with a 300-plus-pound opponent, something he’ll get to do this week for the first time in 13 months. The 49ers on Monday opened a 21-day window during which Kilgore, who suffered a broken leg Oct. 19, 2014, and who has been on the physically unable to perform list this season, can practice with the team.
I can do as much as I can against a dummy or a pad, but until I go against somebody that’s breathing, trying to kill me – we’ll see then.
49ers center Daniel Kilgore, about his return to practice this week
The 49ers can add him to the 53-man roster anytime during the span. Kilgore said he’d love to play Sunday at Seattle but that Nov. 29 against the visiting Arizona Cardinals was more realistic.
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“I can do as much as I can against a dummy or a pad, but until I go against somebody that’s breathing, trying to kill me – we’ll see then,” Kilgore said.
His return would boost an offensive line that has been terrible at times at run blocking and protecting the quarterback. Center has been perhaps the shakiest spot.
Pro Football Focus ranks Marcus Martin, who has started every game this season, 35th of 36 centers, ahead of only the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Cody Wallace, a 2008 draft pick by the 49ers. Pro Football Focus has been grading players since 2007, and no center has finished the year with a mark lower than Martin (-31.2) or Wallace (-35).
Martin’s run blocking has been particularly suspect, and the second-year lineman was conspicuous Nov. 1 against the St. Louis Rams on a series of up-the-middle running plays from the shadow of the 49ers’ end zone. They began at their 3-yard line, lost yardage on every run and allowed a safety on third down.
Kilgore received a positive grade from Pro Football Focus in his three starts before last year’s injury, and he finished the 2014 season, his first as a starter, 16th of 41 centers.
It’s just going to be fun to go out there again. … The only thing I’m not looking forward to is wearing the helmet. That thing’s going to hurt like crazy. It’s been a year since I wore it.
49ers center Daniel Kilgore, about returning to practice this week
If Kilgore takes over the position as assumed, he could be part of several changes along the line.
Andrew Tiller hasn’t started at right guard. But he had more snaps at that position than starter Jordan Devey, 48-9, in the Week 9 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. And rookie right tackle Trent Brown took nine snaps, the first of his career, at right tackle against the Falcons.
Kilgore had surgery after last year’s fracture, then had a follow-up procedure in June during which a plate and 12 screws were inserted into his left fibula and ankle. He said he was most excited about practicing this week against nose tackle Ian Williams, who is known for his quickness and who went through a similar ordeal with a broken ankle in 2013.
“He and I always had a friendly, competitive spirit with each other,” Kilgore said. “It’s just going to be fun to go out there again – being with the guys, being in the huddle. The only thing I’m not looking forward to is wearing the helmet. That thing’s going to hurt like crazy. It’s been a year since I wore it.”
Notes – The 49ers also opened a 21-day practice window for rookie wide receiver DeAndre Smelter, who tore an ACL on Nov. 29 while playing for Georgia Tech. The health of the 49ers’ other receivers might determine whether Smelter plays this season.
▪ Coach Jim Tomsula said running back Carlos Hyde (foot), wide receiver Anquan Boldin (hamstring) and cornerback Tramaine Brock (shin) are the only players not practicing at full speed.
▪ Tomsula reiterated that Blaine Gabbert would start at quarterback against the Seahawks but there has been no determination about the starting role after Sunday.