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49ers notebook: Garoppolo's ankle 'feeling great'; bad news on injury reinforcements

Sacramento Bee logoSacramento Bee 10/17/2020 By Chris Biderman, The Sacramento Bee

What has Jimmy Garoppolo learned about high ankle sprains the last few weeks?

“They suck,” he said Friday. “Yeah, they’re not very fun.”

Yet despite dealing with the injury to his right ankle since Week 2, and getting benched at halftime of last week’s blowout loss to the Dolphins while struggling to play through it, the 49ers franchise quarterback is all systems go for Sunday night’s game against the division rival Los Angeles Rams (4-1).

Garoppolo was a full participant in all three practices this week and indicated his ankle is progressing. He’ll make his fourth start of the season while trying to keep San Francisco (2-3) afloat in the first game of the toughest stretch on the schedule. The 49ers next six opponents are 25-6 combined.

“It’s feeling great this week, it really is,” Garoppolo said. “Made a lot of improvements, just that couple extra days I think consistently get (the ankle) better.”

It remains to be seen if the ankle is more equipped to handle the stress of going against a defense trying to plant Garoppolo into the Levi’s Stadium turf. The Rams’ 20 sacks are tied for the most in the NFL and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald, will be one of the 49ers’ most difficult opponents they face this season, particularly after the offensive line allowed 10 sacks over the last two games combined.

But 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is hoping a full week of practice for Garoppolo and his primary weapons will help the offense rebound from a slow start to the year. For the first time since training camp opened in August, Garoppolo had top running back Raheem Mostert, tight end George Kittle and receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk all on the practice field together and healthy.

“These guys took a lot of reps, more reps this week than they probably had this year combined,” Shanahan said Friday.

Added Garoppolo: “It’s tremendous. When you get guys out there and we’re doing the same plays with the same people, and you start to get a feel for one another. It takes time. It’s one of those things that it’s not going to happen overnight. We know that. So, it’s just about putting in the time on the field, off the field, interacting with one another, just getting on the same page as fast as we can.”

The defending NFC champions have looked anything but in their first five games this season.

Injuries, of course, have played a significant role, but they don’t explain everything, including the lackluster play from the offensive line and the team’s less consistent running game after being one of the NFL’s best in that category last season. San Francisco’s quarterbacks have an 88.6 combined passer rating, good for 23rd in the league, despite playing just one team with a record above .500 among their first five opponents.

A loss Sunday night would significantly dampen the team’s faint playoff hopes, which has added weight to the week of preparation.

“This whole week, there’s a sense of urgency around the building that you feel, you definitely feel with the guys and the coaches,” Garoppolo said. “When you get on the field, guys have been locked in. That’s really what you need, especially when you got young guys who are trying to play catch up with this different type of season.”

Bad news for reinforcements

The 49ers at the outset of the season were hoping to get three players back to the practice field off the physically unable to perform list next week when they’re first eligible, but that won’t be happening any time soon.

Starting center Weston Richburg, defensive end Ronald Blair III and defensive tackle Jullian Taylor, who are all coming off season-ending knee injuries in 2019, won’t be returning to the team until Week 10 or 12, Shanahan said Friday. They’re eligible to have their practice windows open next week before the road game against the New England Patriots.

The news is particularly tough because Richburg is considered a stabilizing force along the offensive line that could help solve some of the team’s communications issues that have led to protection problems in recent weeks.

Blair’s presence, of course, is much needed given the team’s slew of injuries to defensive ends, including Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Ezekiel Ansah, who are all dealing with long-term injuries.

Blair tore his ACL while bringing down Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson last November. Shanahan said he had a setback after there was some thought he was a candidate to return in time for Week 1.

“Had to re-do some things to his knee, some stuff that they messed up. And he is doing a lot better from that, but that’s why he’s going to be a couple weeks longer than expected,” Shanahan said.

The 49ers will continue to ride with Ben Garland at center and a combination of Arik Armstead, Kerry Hyrder and Dion Jordan at defensive end until Blair can return. Taylor, who had a litany of knee issues in college, tore his ACL last December.

Good news on Alexander, Sherman in holding pattern

Linebacker Kwon Alexander, who is also dealing with a high ankle sprain, likely won’t have to be placed on injured reserve, which would require him to miss three games. The injury is less severe than a typical high ankle sprain, which means Alexander could be back at some point over the next two weeks.

“Never like to say minor high ankle sprain, because high ankle sprains are always a big issue. But it wasn’t your typical one where they for sure go on IR, so that’s why we haven’t put him on that yet and we’re hoping to keep him off,” Shanahan said.

Alexander was ruled out for Sunday night, meaning the 49ers will call on second-year pro Dre Greenlaw, who played well in Alexander’s place last season after Alexander tore a pectoral muscle in late October. Greenlaw is the team’s primary “Sam” linebacker who will shift to the “Will” while Alexander is out.

Shanahan was also asked for an update on cornerback Richard Sherman, who had injections to quell inflammation in his calf this week. The team is waiting to see if the injections work before deciding on a time frame for his return. He’s currently on injured reserve and hasn’t played since Week 1.

“I know now’s a matter of time of resting it,” Shanahan said. “You don’t go out and see if they’ve worked yet. You let the injections go through their course and you see how it is, whether it’s next week or the week after.”

—Alexander and cornerback Dontae Johnson were the only members of the active roster ruled out for Sunday night’s game. Safety Marcell Harris, who missed practice Thursday and Friday with an ankle injury, is listed as questionable.

Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (concussion) is also listed as questionable, though he was a full participant in practice Thursday and Friday. Shanahan said Moseley has one more step to clear in the concussion protocol on Saturday before being cleared to play. If cleared, Moseley will start opposite Jason Verrett, Shanahan said.

—For the Rams, pass rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (elbow) was ruled out. Linebacker Micah Kiser (groin) is listed as questionable.

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