49ers decimated by injuries as losses pile up

49ers decimated by injuries as losses pile up

ATLANTA – The 49ers had already placed eight key players on injured reserve this season.

Left tackle Joe Staley and wide receiver Torrey Smith were not active Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons due to injuries. The 49ers' lack of depth was dealt another blow when starting inside linebacker Gerald Hodges was deactivated for violating team rules.

Then, the 49ers lost five more players due to injuries during the course of the team’s 41-13 loss to the Falcons at the Georgia Dome. The 49ers (1-13) lost for the 13th consecutive time after an opening-game victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

“I haven’t been in a game like this,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said. “We lost five during the game. (We) had to do a lot of mixing and matching.

“That’s just the nature of the game. That’s the league. We all have the same rules. Everybody dresses 46 (players). You just got to make the 46 work.”

The 49ers lost three players to injuries on offense for the second game in a row. A week ago, in addition to Smith’s injury, center Daniel Kilgore and tight end Vance McDonald sustained season-ending injuries against the New York Jets.

On Sunday, wide receiver Quinton Patton (foot), center Marcus Martin (ankle) and tight end Blake Bell (shoulder) did not return after sustaining injuries.

“It’s a difficult situation,” 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “Two weeks in a row we’ve had a center, a tight end and a wide receiver go down. So we had a lot of players who have to step up and players who had to move around.”

--Kelly declined to get into specifics of Hodges’ deactivation, which he termed a “coaches decision.” Before the game, the 49ers announced Hodges would not play due to his violation of team rules.

That meant Nick Bellore and Michael Wilhoite were the only two inside linebackers available for the game. After Bellore went down on the third play of the game with an elbow injury, the 49ers tried Vinnie Sunseri, Antoine Bethea and Ahmad Brooks as the fill-ins.

Bethea had not played inside linebacker since high school, he said. Brooks broke into the league as an inside linebacker before converting to outside linebacker after the 49ers claimed him off waivers in 2008.

--Martin went down with an ankle injury in the second half, which forced veteran Zane Beadles to play center for the first time in his life. Beadles, who started the first 12 games at left guard, opened the game at left tackle in place of Staley.

“It’s been an interesting couple of weeks,” Beadles said. “That’s something I pride myself on, being able to play multiple positions.

“It’s tough. I don’t know if I’ve ever been part of a season like this, where as many guys get hurt. But I think we have a lot of guys on this team that take the approach that there’s a job to do and we’re going to do it to the best of our ability. We’d like to be winning more ballgames, but I guess that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

--Cornerback Jimmie Ward left the game in the first half with a shoulder injury. Rookie Rashard Robinson took over for him and finished the game.

--The 49ers had another depth chart change that did not impact the game. Kelly decided to promote Christian Ponder to the job as the team’s backup quarterback, unseating Blaine Gabbert. Ponder did not play.

“We’ve seen him in practice do some really good things and earned a spot,” Ponder said. “It has nothing to do with Kap. I thought Kap played well today. He earned a spot as the No. 2. “

When asked if he wants to see Ponder get some game action at some point in the final two games, Kelly answered, “We’re trying to win football games. This isn’t open tryouts right now.”

Frank Gore returns home for his 14th NFL season


Frank Gore returns home for his 14th NFL season

Frank Gore is returning home to, in all likelihood, finish his professional football career.

Gore, 34, signed a one-year contract to enter his 14th NFL season with his hometown Miami Dolphins, the team announced Friday.

Gore grew up in Coconut Grove, Florida, and attended Coral Gables High School before playing collegiately at the University of Miami.

He played the first 10 NFL seasons with the 49ers and is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. Gore ranks fifth in NFL history with 14,026 rushing yards – just 75 yards behind No. 4 Curtis Martin.

After rushing for 11,073 yards and 64 touchdowns with the 49ers, the club declined to offer him a multi-year contract following the 2014 season. Gore played the past three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

Gore remains one of the most popular players in 49ers history. When asked recently if he would be willing to “retire” as a member of the 49ers after his final game, Gore reacted enthusiastically about the possibility.

1, Emmitt Smith 18,355
2, Walter Payton 16,726
3, Barry Sanders 15,269
4, Curtis Martin 14,101
5, Frank Gore 14,026

49ers increase competition for starting guard positions


49ers increase competition for starting guard positions

The 49ers are the fifth team to give Jonathan Cooper a chance after he arrived in the NFL as the No. 7 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in the 2013 draft.

Cooper, 28, caught the attention of the 49ers with his career-high 13 starts last season with the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers signed him to a one-year, $4.95 million contract this week.

“We signed him to compete for one of the guard spots as a starter,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday at Stanford's pro day. “He played very well in our minds for Dallas last year and kind of resurrected his career. He’s battled injuries, but we really like the way he played, and we think he’s a very good fit for what we do. So we were pleased to add him.”

The 49ers plan to take it slowly this offseason with Cooper, who underwent surgery after tearing the medial-collateral ligament in his left knee during the final game of the season. The 49ers report for the offseason program in mid-April.

The 49ers are certain to have at least two new starters on the offensive line. Former New York Giants center Weston Richburg was signed to replace Daniel Kilgore, who was subsequently traded to the Miami Dolphins. Brandon Fusco, who started 16 games at right guard, signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an unrestricted free agent.

Laken Tomlinson has a chance to hold onto a starting job. Acquired shortly before the start of the regular season in a trade from the Detroit Lions, Tomlinson quickly moved into the starting lineup at left guard and started the final 15 games. Tomlinson was a first-round draft pick of the Lions in 2015.

“Laken played very well the longer he was there,” Lynch said. “I think people forget with Laken, he came here in Week 1. He was kind of force-fed. We didn’t have many options. But we saw a guy get better throughout the season. He’ll get his opportunity.”

Joshua Garnett, a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2016, spent last season on injured reserve due to an a knee injury sustained in training camp. The 49ers challenged Garnett to get in better physical condition. He has been cleared for football activity.

“Joshua Garnett has been working extremely hard, so he’ll be in that mix,” Lynch said. “He did a great job embracing the time he has last year to improve as a player. He remade his body and we're looking forward to see him get after it in the offseason.

“I think he’s excited about it. He’s feeling sexy, as he says.”

Erik Magnuson, 24, won a spot on the 49ers’ roster after signing as an undrafted rookie from Michigan. Magnuson could enter into the competition at guard. He displayed unique versatility in his first season, starting two games at right tackle before sustaining a season-ending foot injury. He can also serve as a backup center.

And, perhaps, the 49ers are not finished adding to the competition. The team owns the No. 9 overall selection, and Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson could be on the radar in the unlikely event he is not selected within the top eight picks.

When asked if the 49ers could also add another player to the mix with a draft pick, Lynch answered, “We’ll see. We’re always looking to get better there.”