49ers

49ers fearful Jerick McKinnon sustained season-ending knee injury

sadjerickap.jpg
AP

49ers fearful Jerick McKinnon sustained season-ending knee injury

SANTA CLARA – Running back Jerick McKinnon went down with a knee injury on Saturday that has the 49ers concerned he could have sustained a season-ending ACL injury.

“We hope that we’re wrong,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Saturday afternoon on a conference call with Bay Area reporters.

McKinnon returned to 11-on-11 drills Saturday for the first time since sustaining a calf injury three weeks ago. On the final play of practice, he went down with what appeared to be a serious knee injury.

“He just made a cut on air and no one was around him and just went down,” Shanahan said. “It looked awkward. We’re concerned about it, but we don’t have an MRI done, so we don’t know for sure.”

McKinnon was scheduled for an MRI on Saturday afternoon. The injury occurred before the 1 p.m. deadline to submit cuts for the 53-man roster. The 49ers kept McKinnon on their initial 53-man roster.

“We’re concerned, but we’re also confident,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “We have a lot of good football players here. We’re proud of our 53-man roster. Next week we’re going to be really excited, looking to take on the Vikings.”

The 49ers open the regular season on Sunday, Sept. 9, against the Minnesota Vikings, McKinnon’s former team. The 49ers signed McKinnon to a four-year, $30 million contract on the first day of free agency. He was expected to be one of the central figures of the team’s offense, as a runner and receiver.

The 49ers kept three other running backs, along with fullback Kyle Juszczyk on their roster. Veteran Alfred Morris, who was signed two weeks ago, could be the starter when the 49ers open the season. Matt Breida is likely to be the backup, with special-teams ace Raheem Mostert available in emergency situations.

Richard Sherman's Hall-of-Fame credentials key to 49ers' playoff run

Richard Sherman's Hall-of-Fame credentials key to 49ers' playoff run

SANTA CLARA -- It’s tough to get to a Super Bowl, much less win it, without multiple figures bringing Hall ofFame credentials. Not those with the potential to get to Canton, Ohio, but those for whom space already has been cleared for a bust.

The 21st-century New England Patriots, despite their high roster-turnover rate, have ushered nearly a dozen individuals into the Hall or to its doorstep. Cornerback Ty Law was a member of the last class. Mainstays Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and defensive lineman Richard Seymour are sure to follow. Already in are short-termers Randy Moss, Curtis Martin and the late Junior Seau -- all of whom were Hall-worthy vets when they arrived in New England.

There are others sure to be nominated, but you get the picture.

Yet the 49ers, favored over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, with the winner advancing to Super Bowl LIV, only have one Hall of Famer.

Richard Sherman.

For several of Sherman’s teammates, notably George Kittle and Nick Bosa, it’s too soon to project. And it’s ridiculously early to project coach Kyle Shanahan, who is six days removed from his first playoff game and victory.

Sherman, 31, would have a Hall-ready resume if he retired in the coming weeks.

The cornerback has been named first-team All-Pro three times, second-team All-Pro twice, has more interceptions (35) than any other active player the last decade and last month was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team.

Multiple Pro Bowl selections? Check. Sherman is up to five.

Super Bowl champion? Check.

Multiple Super Bowl appearances? Check.

Comes up with big plays at crucial moments? Routinely.

“People don’t really try him,” defensive lineman Arik Armstead told NBC Sports Bay Area on Thursday.

There is another factor Sherman adds. His intangibles are as strong as his tangibles. Unlike most great cornerbacks, he’s not a man on an island but at once a galvanizing and unifying force for the entire defense and also the team as a whole.

“Usually, they’re out there, they just want to cover people,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said of cornerbacks, adding that Sherman’s impact on his teammates is more like that which comes from great linebackers.

Sherman is in his second year with the 49ers in part because some considered him damaged goods after undergoing surgery to repair a ruptured right Achilles tendon in November 2017, and then enduring a less invasive surgery on his left Achilles’ tendon a few months later.

His recovery has been stunning. Because of it, he’s not an aging player-coach unable to summon his A-game, but is a hyperactive playmaker that has been so right, in so many ways, for a young team that doesn’t know what it doesn’t know.

“Sherm is amazing,” Armstead said. “He’s the leader of our team and our defense. Super smart. Extremely talented. It’s been great to have him. He means a lot to me; he’s a mentor and I have a lot of fun playing with him.”

When I asked Saleh the other day what, exactly, Sherman brings to the unit, he didn’t mention interceptions or passes defensed. Didn’t even point out Sherman’s knack for reading offenses.

“Pure gas,” Saleh said.

“Gas” translates to fuel. It’s an element essential to operating a vehicle at maximum capacity. Or, in this case, doing the same to a football team.

Sherman was a vocal leader of those Seattle Seahawks teams that were such fierce rivals of the 49ers. Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense was terrific partly because quarterbacks learned to avoid Sherman – and those that tried him generally came away empty.

[RELATED: 49ers' history brings inspiration no pressure to Jimmy G]

San Francisco’s defense lacks the catchy name, but it has the same intensity, most of which is supplied by Sherman.

When you add Sherman’s entire catalog -- statistics, physical presence, emotional influence and the psychological edge he provides -- his Hall of Fame worthiness is without question.

There may come a time when others wearing the scarlet and gold reach the doorstep of Canton. He’s the only member of this team we know will be waiting.

Richard Sherman vividly explains why 49ers don't shadow wide receivers

Richard Sherman vividly explains why 49ers don't shadow wide receivers

SANTA CLARA -- Though Richard Sherman is a graduate of Stanford University, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning on planet earth, his Thursday afternoon analysis of defensive strategy came straight outta Compton.

The subject was man-to-man coverage and Sherman’s avowed comfort at left cornerback.

The insinuation was that an opposing team could, theoretically, neutralize Sherman, surely the 49ers' best cornerback and perhaps tops in the NFL, by sending its best receiver to the opposite side of the field.

That the Green Bay Packers, for example, might frequently deploy No. 1 receiver Davante Adams to the right side of the San Francisco defense when the teams meet Sunday to decide the NFL representative in Super Bowl LIV.

It would not be illogical, in this instance, to have Sherman “shadow” Adams. Many defensive coordinators have made that request of their top cover corner.

Sherman proceeded to eviscerate that plan by using what folks in his hometown refer to as common sense.

“We have the No. 1 pass defense in this league,” the Compton native said while standing at the podium in the interview auditorium, “and we haven’t done it.”

The statistics absolutely support Sherman’s claim and his dismissiveness toward making a change that might convey a measure of desperation by the 49ers.

With Sherman almost exclusively on the left side, San Francisco in the regular season was the NFL’s top pass defense, allowing an average of 169.2 yards per game – the lowest average allowed by any team since 2009, when the Jets limited passers to an average of 153.7.

Moreover, the 49ers led the league in net yards per attempt at 4.8 and tied with the Patriots for fewest first downs allowed via pass, averaging 9.4 per game.

These numbers are among the factors that have made defensive coordinator Robert Saleh a candidate to become a head coach. They undoubtedly influence Sherman’s belief in Saleh, and as long as the numbers confirm no change is needed there will be request to follow Adams on Sunday or any other receiver on any other team.

“I love it how people are like, ‘Oh, my gawd, these guys need to do this,’ ” Sherman said in his usual audacious tone. “Well, I’m going to let you know something: You go to your job and tell your boss what you’re going to do and what you’re not going to do and see how long you last.

“Saleh calls the defense. If Saleh comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, you follow this guy everywhere he goes,' then that’s what I’m going to do. If he doesn’t, guess what? I’m going to do what he told me to do. That’s how coaching and player relationships work.

“And it just so happens, we have the No. 1 pass defense in the league,” he reiterated before sprinkling bits of sarcasm with his truth. “Whoa! Oh, my gawd! It’s crazy. Crazy that you’re not following anybody but, somehow, you’ve got the No. 1 pass defense in the league. It’s almost like our strategy works. It’s almost like you’re in idiot for doing it any other way. It’s almost like you’re dumb if you do it another way. It’s almost like people who have been saying, ‘Oh, do it this way’ for so long, but they don’t have the No. 1 defense.”

For Sherman, and for Saleh, it’s about doing what has worked. What succeeds. What wins. Is there a risk to staying true to their tendencies? Perhaps. If Adams avoids Sherman and torches Emmanuel Moseley and Ahkello Witherspoon – and the latter has been vulnerable – and Green Bay prevails, there will be second-guessing. Because there always is.

Don’t expect it from Sherman, who posed a rhetorical scenario that essentially has a great left tackle shadowing a great pass rusher, no matter where he goes. This does not happen, nor can it ever be expected.

Until it does, Sherman has one criterion for any strategy involving his placement.

[RELATED: 49ers focused on Rodgers' patented move]

“Does it help us win the game? Is it going to help the defense? Is it going to help us limit their explosive (plays)? Then I’ll do it,” he said. “If it’s not. If it doesn’t make a difference, if it’s ... then that’s what I’m going to do.”

It’s not that he never has shadowed a receiver. He has done it against Atlanta’s Julio Jones, against Cincinnati’s A.J. Green. But as a rule, no.

So when the topic was floated this time, Sherman was armed and ready, and filled the room with facts.