The 49ers were dealt bad news Friday with the loss of linebacker Kwon Alexander for the year following his pectoral tear against Arizona. But there were good tidings from the practice field Tuesday during a bonus session before the pivotal divisional matchup against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football.
Right tackle Mike McGlinchey and fullback Kyle Juszczyk returned to the practice field for the first time since suffering knee injuries Oct. 7 against the Cleveland Browns. They accompanied left tackle Joe Staley, who appears in line to play Monday against Seattle, which would mark his first action since Week 2.
“My plan is to play,” Staley said. “So (I’m) excited about it.”
Staley practiced before the past two games but hasn’t played since sustaining the injury, but noted Tuesday he had his eyes on a return to play the Seahawks all along.
“I wasn’t going to say it at the time, but there were no real aspirations to play,” said Staley. “I was just kind of doing what I could do, and trying to push it as much as I could push it. There was no timetable. This was the game that we were all looking for.”
McGlinchey had arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, which he said “flipped” and required removal. His four-game absence was the first time he missed games due to injury at any level, though he played through ankle sprains at Notre Dame. McGlinchey wasn’t as declarative about his status as Staley. He was asked if he’s trending toward playing.
“That’s what the hope is,” he said. “I’m not going to say anything about that. But the hope is to be ready to play as soon as possible.”
Juszczyk sprained his MCL in the second half against the Browns. He indicated he could have played if the last game came on a normal week rather than Thursday, when he had an extensive on-field workout before the 49ers played the Cardinals.
“I feel amazing. I feel 100 percent, ready to ride,” Juszczyk said.
San Francisco did well to replace injured starters. First-year tackles Justin Skule and Daniel Brusnkill proved to be serviceable replacements despite questions about their viability entering the season. Brunskill played in the Alliance of American Football in the spring and Skule was a sixth-round draft pick from Vanderbilt who appeared to be on the roster bubble throughout training camp.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo enters Monday’s game with having been sacked on 5 percent of his dropbacks, which ranks ninth-best in the NFL.
“We’re very lucky,” McGlinchey said. “There’s not a lot of teams in the NFL that could lose two starting tackles and still have the production that we’ve had offensively. And that’s a credit to Kyle the offensive staff. The two of those guys stepped up huge for us.”
The 49ers on Tuesday officially placed Alexander on season-ending injured reserve as he’s expected to have surgery to repair his torn pectoral. Linebacker Elijah Lee was promoted from the practice squad to take his place. Rookie fifth-round pick Dre Greenlaw is expected to take over at Alexander’s “Will” linebacker position.
Lee started five games last season in place of Reuben Foster following his release in late November of 2018. Lee didn’t make the team during final cuts as the team opted for Greenlaw and undrafted rookie Azeez Al-Shaair instead.
Lee has been with the team since 2017, when he was signed from the Vikings practice squad and has appeared in 30 games with San Francisco. He can play all three linebacker spots and should be a regular special teams contributor.
The team also opened the practice window for veteran tight end Garrett Celek, who had surgery in the offseason to repair a fractured disk in his back. Celek remains on the reserve/physically unable to perform list (PUP), but the team has three weeks to add him to the active roster or place him on injured reserve.
Celek has been out since the spring and has been replaced by Levine Toilolo as the third blocking tight end behind George Kittle and Ross Dwelley. Toilolo has dealt with a groin injury the past two weeks and has appeared in just 37 offensive snaps over the past three games combined.
George Kittle and others miss practice
The 49ers didn’t have star tight end George Kittle during Tuesday’s practice and he wasn’t made available to reporters during the open locker room session afterward.
However, there’s optimism Kittle will be able to play Monday against Seattle despite banging his knee on a helmet during the first play from scrimmage in Arizona and leaving the game midway through the fourth quarter.
Said one of Kittle’s teammates: “He’s the toughest guy on our team.”
The game Monday pushes the normal practice schedule back a day. So the team will have practices from Thursday to Saturday, which will offer a better indication of Kittle’s availability.
▪ Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (foot sprain) did not practice and was seen doing conditioning and rehab on the side in the early portion of the session open to reporters. Witherspoon had expressed optimism that he would be returning this week. But, like Kittle, there will be more clarity starting Thursday. Toilolo also sat out Tuesday’s session.
▪ Rookie receiver Jalen Hurd, who’s been out since August and was placed on injured reserve Oct. 3, was doing conditioning prior to practice. Hurd is eligible to return from IR at any point following the Nov. 24 Packers game and can resume practicing next week before the team plays Arizona Nov. 17. The third-round pick sustained a small fracture in his back.