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49ers Mailbag: What Walker's absence means to offense

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49ers Mailbag: What Walker's absence means to offense

The 49ers will have their first official practice of the week on Tuesday, so we'll get a glimpse at the team's injury situation.Obviously, don't look for tight end Delanie Walker to return any time soon from a jaw that was fractured in two places on Dec. 24. Walker did not sound on Friday like a player who thought he'd be able to play."It's emotional," Walker said in his first comments since the injury. "First time in the playoffs and I get hurt, and not being able to play. Kind of hurts. But our team is doing well, and I'm recovering the way I want to recover, so who knows?"Defensive lineman Ray McDonald is nursing a right hamstring strain. He said it's not as bad as the left hamstrings strain that kept him out for a game in November. McDonald said he expects to play on Saturday against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC divisional round at Candlestick Park.The 49ers return to full strength at wide receiver, as Ted Ginn (ankle) and Kyle Williams (concussion) have been cleared to play after missing time late in the season. Every day this week, we'll be answering some questions from the 49ers Mailbag. Let's see what we have today . . . How does Walker's injury impact what the Niners want to do on offense? Will Gore have a harder time running the football in his absence? (Jeremy Sawvel)
Walker greatly improved his blocking this season. In fact, he became such a good blocker that he became a forgotten man in the passing attack.Walker's value was his versatility. He was still a threat as a receiver, though he went six games without a reception before sustaining his injury. Backup tight end Justin Peelle is considered more a blocker, so nothing has to change with the 49ers' run game. But it does mean that the Saints can play the run more when Peelle is on the field. The 49ers could counteract that with more passes in that personnel grouping.It should be noted that the 49ers have decided to keep Walker on the 53-man roster. Coach Jim Harbaugh said they're leaving the spot only for Walker on the chance that he might be able to return to action at some point in the postseason.Also, there's no reason for the team to fill the roster spot because nobody they add to the 53-man roster would be among the 46 active players on game days, anyway.Does the 49ers offense feel more prepared for the blitz happy defense that the Saints like to run because of their prior preseason meeting? (Andrew Schmidt)
The 49ers do not feel more prepared because the Saints did not unveil any great secrets in the exhibition opener. However, the 49ers feel infinitely better-equipped to handle what New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams throws their way because the offensive line has been working together now for 24 weeks -- as opposed to two weeks together when the met for that first exhibition game. Also, the 49ers' pass protection should have the advantage of being able to communicate their pre-snap adjustments without the complication of dealing with excessive crowd noise.Which LB will be charged with covering Jimmy Graham? (Joel Ellis)
Graham is the best pass-catching tight end in the NFC. The 49ers will mix up their coverages, but look for Patrick Willis to be a busy man. He is generally the player called upon to cover top-flight tight ends. But there will also be instances when safeties Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson are responsible, too. Graham was the Saints' leading receiver during the season with 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Shanahan showed patience with Beathard; Will now have to show more

Shanahan showed patience with Beathard; Will now have to show more

Kyle Shanahan is, self admittedly, not a patient person. As he watched quarterback C.J. Beathard run the scout team over the last couple of weeks -- how he visualized an unfamiliar play, went through his progressions and handled the defensive coverages -- the head coach saw rapid improvement every day. But he suppressed any urge to play the rookie before he was ready.

“I tried to wait for the right time for him and the right time for the team,” Shanahan explained.

Down 14-0 to Washington halfway through the second quarter with starter Brian Hoyer struggling, Shanahan knew Beathard’s time had come.

“I felt the team needed it right then,” Shanahan said. “It also made me more confident to do it because I thought he was ready for it, also.”

Moments after the game was over, Shanahan named Beathard the starter. Watching the game tape on the flight home only bolstered his decision.

“By no means was he perfect, missed a couple of things, but that always happens,” Shanahan said. “I thought he came in there, didn’t hesitate, competed. The moment was not too big for him. Made a few plays in rhythm, made a few off schedule plays and was a big reason we got back in that game.”

Beathard led the 49ers on two scoring drives and finished 19-of-36 with 245 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception, though it came on fourth-and-20 on his final pass attempt of the game. On his 45-yard touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson, Beathard extended the play when the fifth year receiver wasn’t where he expected him to be.

“He was supposed to go to the post for a certain coverage, and they had a busted coverage, so he just hung out there which is why C.J. didn’t see it right away,” Shanahan explained. “We had enough protection where he could take a couple more hitches. He drove the pocket and saw where Aldrick was, and he didn’t hesitate. Made that throw with that arm strength.”

Shanahan smirked at his not-so-subtle dig at those who questioned Beathard’s arm strength during the draft process. He sees a quarterback who can make all the throws, and make them from the pocket, and scramble when he needs to. All he needs now, Shanahan contends, is experience.

“It’s about playing in the game and reacting to defenses, reacting to coverages, reacting to adjustments. He’s going to see a lot of things he hasn’t seen before, and that will change each week. It will probably change each quarter.”

Helping Beathard continue to grow through those experiences will require patience, but in this situation, it’s the kind the head coach can handle.

“You’re never going to get a quick answer. You see over time, but he’s got the ability to do it. He’s got the mental toughness to do it. I think he will get better the more he plays.”

Armstead to undergo surgery on broken hand, out indefinitely

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USATSI

Armstead to undergo surgery on broken hand, out indefinitely

Defensive lineman Arik Armstead will be out indefinitely with a broken hand, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan announced Monday.

“He’s going to need surgery, so it’s going to be some time,” Shanahan said of Armstead, the 49ers' first-round pick in the 2015 draft.

The 49ers will discuss placing Armstead of injured reserve, which would rule him out for at least eight weeks. The 49ers will also be without defensive end Aaron Lynch this week against the Dallas Cowboys. Lynch is week-to-week with a calf strain.

“The more guys you lose, the less you like that depth,” Shanahan said. “Losing Arik, which could be some time. We’ll have to discuss IR. We have to do that over the next couple of days. We know we’re going to have Lynch out, too, for at least a week or most likely more. That takes away two guys who were helping.”

The 49ers might make a roster move to add a defensive lineman to their 53-man roster. The 49ers also expect outside linebacker/defensive end Dekoda Watson to return to action this week after missing two weeks with a groin strain.