49ers

49ers-Chiefs injury report: Reuben Foster, Malcolm Smith return

49ers-Chiefs injury report: Reuben Foster, Malcolm Smith return

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers, in essence, added two linebackers to the team Wednesday.

Reuben Foster returned to the practice field after serving a two-game suspension, and veteran Malcolm Smith was cleared to undergo a full practice for the first time since he sustained a hamstring injury in the 49ers’ Aug. 9 preseason opener.

Rookie middle linebacker Fred Warner played well in the first two weeks without Foster or Smith alongside him. It appears to be unlikely that Warner will lose his starting role.

And Foster almost assuredly will step back into the 49ers' lineup at weakside linebacker after serving his punishment for violations of the NFL’s policies on substances of abuse and personal conduct. The team released veteran guard Matt Tobin to make room on the 53-man roster for Foster.

Smith was the 49ers’ biggest defensive acquisition on the first day of free agency in 2017. But he missed all of last season with a torn pectoral sustained early in training camp. The 49ers still view him as a valuable asset because of his fit for the defensive system.

So, is it possible Warner, Foster and Smith all could see action together?

“We don’t have the plan, yet,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday. “We’ve got to see how they are, how they play. The plan is to do whatever we think gives us the best chance to win. Hopefully, we’ll be able to make a better guess at that decision these three days of practice.”

Mark Nzeocha took over as the 49ers’ starting strongside linebacker in the team’s base defense after a trade sent Eli Harold to the Detroit Lions.

“If I knew what way we were going to go this week, I wouldn’t tell you guys, but I do mean I don’t know, yet,” Shanahan said. “Rueben hasn’t been here in two weeks. Today is going to be Malcolm’s first day of full practice. So we want to see how all of those guys do, and it’ll be a tough decision at the end of the week, but a tough decision I’m going to be happy to have to make.”

Wednesday’s Practice Report

49ERS
Did not practice
G Joshua Garnett (toe)
T Joe Staley (not injury related -- vet day)
S Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder)

Limited practice
WR Marquise Goodwin (quadricep)
G Mike Person (foot)
CB Ahkello Witherspoon (ankle)

CHIEFS
Did not practice
S Eric Berry (heel)
DE Chris Jones (groin)

Limited practice
LB Ben Niemann (hamstring)

Full participation
G Cameron Erving (knee)
CB Kendall Fuller (hand)
DE Jarvis Jenkins (elbow)
LB Reggie Ragland (shoulder, knee)

49ers GM John Lynch praises Ben Garland's contributions on, off field

49ers GM John Lynch praises Ben Garland's contributions on, off field

49ers general manager John Lynch praised the on- and off-field contributions of offensive lineman Ben Garland while announcing the official signing of a one-year contract.

The sides agreed to the deal at the beginning of free agency, Garland announced on social media earlier this month. After the deal was signed, the 49ers made the announcement on Saturday.

"Ben stepped in at a critical point in our season last year and did a great job," Lynch said in a statement.

"He is a versatile interior lineman who battles every play and gives you everything he has. Off the field, Ben is one of the most active NFL players in the community and we are privileged to have him representing the 49ers and the Bay Area."

[RELATED: 49ers Mailbag: Do 49ers approach draft as if Joe Staley won't return?]

Garland, who turns 32 next month, started the final three regular season games and all three postseason games for the 49ers last season after Weston Richburg sustained a season-ending knee injury. He entered the offseason as an unrestricted free agent.

Garland is a six-year NFL veteran from Air Force whose football career was delayed for two years while he completed his military commitment. He still serves in the National Guard during the NFL offseason.

49ers mailbag: Do 49ers approach draft as if Joe Staley won't return?

49ers mailbag: Do 49ers approach draft as if Joe Staley won't return?

The NFL offseason continues on ... sort of.

And the questions continue, too.

Thanks to all the folks who submitted their questions via Twitter for this edition of 49ers Mailbag.

General manager John Lynch seemed confident Joe Staley would be back for at least another season when he was asked last month about the six-time Pro Bowl left tackle.

I don’t know that Staley has told the team, definitively, he plans to return. Staley, who turns 36 in August, dealt with more physical issues last season than at any point in his 13-year career. Perhaps he just wants to take some time to see how his body feels later in the offseason.

The 49ers certainly would want clarity on Staley’s status before the draft. And it’s also likely they would not want word to get out before the draft because they would love for other teams to be in the dark whether left tackle is or is not a high draft priority for them.

Mike McGlinchey appears locked into right tackle, and there does not seem to be a plan to move him to the other side to ultimately replace Staley.

On the depth chart, the 49ers re-signed Shon Coleman. Justin Skule also returns after starting eight games with mixed results.

If the top available player on the 49ers’ board at any point is an offensive tackle, I think that’s the way they would go.

Weston Richburg is clearly the team’s top option at center. But after he underwent surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon in December, Ben Garland stepped in and played well enough to keep the offense rolling.

If Richburg is healthy, it’s his job. Until then, the 49ers have to feel confident Garland can keep things afloat.

Like most positions, it’s personal preference.

The Raiders also figure to be in the market for a wide receiver with the No. 12 pick. If the 49ers have one receiver ranked far above the rest, and Las Vegas takes that player, then the 49ers could look to trade back or go with a different position.

For a breakdown of the top three wide receivers, see above video.

If everyone comes back healthy, the 49ers have quite a few options at wide receiver. Of course, none of them really are proven.

I agree the 49ers must look to strengthen their cornerback position. And looking a year in advance, there is no guarantee Richard Sherman will be back in 2021. And, even for the 2020 season, Emmanuel Moseley and Ahkello Witherspoon are the only other corners with starting experience on the roster.

Cornerback is a priority, especially because the trade of DeForest Buckner likely means the pass rush will not be as dominant.

I doubt the 49ers will sign a starting-caliber defensive tackle at this stage of free agency. Maybe they bring in a player who has a chance to compete for a spot in the D-line rotation, but I doubt it.

I believe the trade of Buckner was all about the contract they were going to have to give him to keep him, as well as the draft pick there were able to pick up in a trade.

Solomon Thomas is under contract for just one more season. They certainly will not pick up the fifth-year option on Thomas, but that does not mean he is gone after this season. The 49ers could look to sign Thomas to a minimum-type contract next year, and he might be willing to accept such a deal.

Buckner rarely came off the field during his four seasons with the club. Now, the 49ers must incorporate more of a rotation to take strain off Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa. That rotation should include Thomas, Dee Ford, D.J. Jones, Ronald Blair, Jullian Taylor, Kentavius Street and, perhaps, a draft pick.

Dang, you’re making me think with this question. How dare you!

I don’t believe it signals a shift, per se. The 49ers’ stated goal is to be a contender every season. The trade was not done for the benefit it provides the team this season as much as what it will do two, three, four years down the road.

That said, Kyle Shanahan never felt like the 49ers’ offense last season was an unstoppable force – at least, not like he felt with Atlanta during the 2016 season. Still, the 49ers were fourth in the NFL in total yards and No. 2 in scoring.

So maybe the 49ers’ offensive production last season proved to Shanahan that it can become a dominant force in 2020 with some specific upgrades, such as a wider variety of third-down options.

[RELATEDThree key 49ers' position battles to watch when training camp begins]

I was shocked last month when Shanahan said, definitively, the 49ers would not release Marquise Goodwin. Of course, I can understand why he would say that. The 49ers want to see if they can trade him.

But with this draft class, I have a difficult time believing any team would surrender a draft pick and pay Goodwin $4.5 million for the upcoming season in salary and bonuses.

Let’s put it this way: I’d be surprised if Goodwin is on the field the next time the 49ers are able to get together on the field.

The NFL has put together guidelines leading up to the draft to level the playing field. General manager John Lynch said on Friday that there will be “no excuses.” I don’t know if the 49ers have an advantage over the other teams in the league, but they certainly have no disadvantage when it comes to technology.

Where the 49ers could have an advantage over some teams is that Lynch and Shanahan work well together, so the communication between the personnel department and coaching staff is very good. Not all teams are like that.

The NFL has to be planning for everything at this stage. Is it possible, under the right circumstances, that games could be played without crowds? TV ratings would be astronomical. But I’m just spit-balling. I have no idea.

What I wonder about is when it will be safe to gather in large crowds. Hopefully, the actions taken by mayors and governors will slow the spread of COVID-19. And, hopefully, we start to see a flattening of the curve within a month.

But if a vaccine is still a year or more away, does that mean we risk outbreaks that compromise our healthcare system until that point? I have no idea.