If Thursday had been the Super Bowl, than the San Francisco 49ers would be celebrating this morning. Instead, it was just the first week of the preseason and despite the 49ers comeback from a 14-0 deficit to beat the Dallas Cowboys by a final score of 24-21, Kyle Shanahan is more likely focused on what he lost to open the exhibition season.
In a span of what felt like it couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes, the 49ers saw at least four key players leave the game due to injury.
Tight end George Kittle, expected to play a major role in the offense as one of Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite targets from the end of last season, exited with a shoulder injury. Running back Matt Breida, who played really well in Shanahan’s offense in 2017, also left with a shoulder injury. After the game, Shanahan didn’t seem too optimistic on a quick recovery time for either:
“Off the top of my head, I know [TE George] Kittle and [RB Matt] Breida had a shoulder injury. I know it’s going to be some time. So, I don’t know how long, but I have a feeling it’s going to be some time. I’d be surprised if they’d be around next week. I didn’t get anything official. I just know that from the game.”
Kittle, a fifth round pick out of Iowa, had 515 yards as a rookie last season. With Garoppolo, his numbers were very promising, as he caught 15 of 19 targets and Jimmy G averaged 11.8 yards per attempt with a rating of 133.3 on those passes. Breida, an undrafted free agent last year, averaged 4.43 yards per attempt on 105 carries and is expected to be the main backup to free agent signee Jerick McKinnon.
That’s not even half of it.
Solomon Thomas, the third overall pick in 2017, left the game with concussion symptoms, as did former Seahawks tackle Garry Gilliam. Thomas didn’t have the type of impact as an elite prospect that many had hoped, but rookie seasons are always full of learning curves. Missing an extended period of training time during year two could hold the former Stanford Cadinal back and it’s impossible to know how long it will be before he’s cleared to play.
In a bit of a surprise, the Niners re-signed Gilliam to a two-year deal in February, and he was battling for a starting right tackle job with first round pick Mike McGlinchey. Any extended time missed by Gilliam is obviously going to hurt their depth at the position moving forward.
But that’s not all.
Malcolm Smith, who last played for the Oakland Raiders in 2016 after missing all of last season with a torn pectoral, exited the game with a hamstring injury; He had signed a five-year deal with San Francisco in the 2017 offseason but has yet to play for them.
“Malcom has played a lot of football. So, he’s not a guy that I’m concerned with that we need to see him play a lot more. I think it was unfortunate for him. I know he just wants to get back out there. Last year he ripped his peck on a freak strip in our scrimmage and today he hurt his hamstring, but I expect Malcolm to be there and help us out this year.”
Smith is expected to be the starting WILL linebacker for the 49ers, while Solomon Thomas is slated to be starting at defensive end opposite of Arik Armstead in coordinator Robert Saleh’s number one defense. On offense, Kittle, Breida, and Gilliam could all miss next week’s game against the Houston Texans, and then who knows. When asked what it was like to lose that many key players so early in a preseason game, Shanahan noted:
“You only have a certain amount of guys and you don’t want anyone to have to play that whole game. It’s tough. Anytime a guy goes out, the next guy has to play more and we’re not trying to have anyone play the whole game. I hope we never go to over time in the preseason either. I got nervous there for a little. It’s just part of the games. There’s four of them and we’ve got to get through them somehow.”
Meanwhile, as far as what happened on the field in terms of playing the game goes, it wasn’t a perfect start for San Francisco in that area either. Garoppolo went 3-of-6 for 34 yards, while McKinnon, making $10.5 million this year after a surprisingly-huge free agent contract was given to him in March, had three carries for -4 yards. And in the debut of the number one defense for 2018, the Niners allowed Dak Prescott to go 3-of-3 for 39 yards and a touchdown.
We won’t harp too much on that part of the game, but as far as what you’d prefer to see and what you’d like to avoid, clearly there are some areas to work on with key players. As far as other expected starters, the 49ers didn’t get off to the 2018 start that they wanted with Kittle being the most notable player and injury from the night, though you also never want to see head injuries to anyone, this time affecting their top pick from last year and a veteran offensive lineman who was signed to a new deal.
San Francisco next plays on Saturday against the Texans. They open the regular season on September 9 against the Minnesota Vikings.