- The San Francisco 49ers have announced that tight end George Kittle will go on the injured reserve list with a calf injury.
- Starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is also dealing with a calf injury though he’s expected to be back in action soon.
- Rookie quarterback Trey Lance will make his first NFL start in Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.
The San Francisco 49ers are dealing with a number of injuries to key contributors. Starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is sidelined with a calf injury which is expected to keep him out of action until after the team’s upcoming bye week. As a result, rookie quarterback Trey Lance will make his first NFL start in Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals. Lance will be missing one of the team’s most important offensive weapons, however, as Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle has been placed on the injured reserve list with his own calf injury. Kittle will miss at least three games which means he’ll be eligible to return for San Fran’s November 7 home game against Arizona.
Kittle is a two time Pro Bowl selection that has been a key cog in the 49ers offense this season with 19 receptions and 227 yards. He played in last week’s 28-21 loss to the Seattle Seahawks after being ‘questionable’ the week before. Kittle sat out practice this week–again with the ‘questionable’ status–but was downgraded to ‘doubtful’ on Friday. The Niners ruled him out earlier today. In his media availability on Friday, San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan said that the team was forced to protect the double tough Kittle as well as QB Garoppolo:
“It’s a group effort, but when you’ve got guys like Jimmy, guys like Kittle, sometimes you have to protect them from themselves. They’re all thinking they can go, but a lot of that’s hope. You’ve got to see the next day when you come out to practice and when you get warmed up for it. And that’s when reality kind of hits when you got to do it right before and try to get warmed up for it, try to get ready to go and it’s just not reacting the right way. And then we all have to make the smarter decision.”
There is at least some good news about Kittle–head coach Shanahan indicated that there is no injury to his knee:
“Yeah. No, he never had anything with the knee. Even though it looked like it, it was just violent.”
With Kittle sidelined, Ross Dwelley will get the start at tight end. In addition, the Niners promoted tight end Tanner Hudson from the practice squad. They also promoted QB Nate Sudfeld from the practice squad to serve as Lance’s backup. Shanahan is confident that Sudfeld will be ready if he’s called upon to play:
“Nate’s been great. He’s been in this league a while. He knows how to prepare when he doesn’t get a lot of the reps. He’s done it every single week. He had an idea earlier this week that he had a better chance of getting up with Jimmy being questionable throughout the week. So, I know how excited he is and I know how much more fun he had getting the majority of the scout team reps this week where usually Trey has. So, it’s been good.”
The Niners’ head coach also made clear that just because Lance is starting this week that it’s not an ‘anointment’ of him as the new starting quarterback. Asked if Lance’s start was 100% due to Garoppolo’s injury Shanahan responded:
“Correct. Yeah, our starting quarterback is hurt. If he would’ve been a hundred percent today, we would have gone with him.”
Not everyone thinks that this would be the correct move. San Francisco 49ers beat writer Rich Madrid is of the opinion that ‘it’s time to start Trey Lance and never look back’:
Trey Lance needs to be the starter the rest of the season, even if Jimmy is healthy and ready to go. He missed too many throws in the first half and continues to show why they’ve been looking to replace him since the end of the 2019 Super Bowl season. They have a chance now to cement Lance as the starter, and we’ve seen what he does for the offense when he’s in. It’s time to let him grow and flourish.
Madrid’s assessment was balanced and included extensive game film–in other words, it’s not the ‘take’ of a poorly informed sports media hack. To the contrary, Madrid’s opinion is the intelligent and well articulated result of the type of serious analysis that is far too rare in today’s sports ecosystem.
Of course, Shanahan’s comment about Garoppolo’s status as starting quarterback isn’t legally binding. If Lance performs reasonably well on Sunday the dynamic could be completely different come Monday. There’s no reason for Shanahan to change the status quo at this point with a bye week on deck and questions remaining about Garoppolo’s health. The Niners don’t play again until Sunday, October 24 when they’ll host the Indianapolis Colts. Shanahan has plenty of time to let things ‘play out’ a bit.
The NFL betting line for Sunday’s Niners vs. Cardinals game hasn’t seen any change due to the absence of Kittle. Arizona remains a -5 or -5.5 favorite with the total at 48.5.