49ers

49ers tight end Ross Dwelley ready for bigger role vs. Seahawks

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49ers tight end Ross Dwelley ready for bigger role vs. Seahawks

SANTA CLARA -- Ross Dwelley was at the Red Lion Hotel Paper Valley in Appleton, Wisconsin, on Oct. 15 last year when he got the call that changed everything.

49ers general manager John Lynch was on the line.

Lynch officially informed Dwelley, an undrafted rookie tight end from the University of San Diego, he was being promoted from the 49ers’ practice squad and he would be in uniform later that evening to play against the Green Bay Packers.

Dwelley did not see any snaps on offense that first game. He played entirely on special teams. But Dwelley’s status on the 49ers’ 53-man roster has not been in serious doubt since that day.

On Monday, Dwelley could be the 49ers’ primary tight end for the team's’ biggest game of the season. The 49ers have a key NFC West matchup against the Seattle Seahawks at Levi’s Stadium and star tight end George Kittle is doubtful because of knee and ankle issues that have kept him out of practice this week.

“I’ve always had confidence in myself,” Dwelley said. “Coming from undrafted, you got to have an inner confidence in yourself that you can be that guy for the team. I feel like I have that confidence. It was a matter of proving it to everyone else that you can be that guy.”

Dwelley won his spot on the 49ers this season as Kittle’s backup. He started the past four games with fullback Kyle Juszczyk out of action with a knee injury. The 49ers deployed a large dose of two-tight end personnel groupings, with Dwelley also seeing considerable time at fullback.

“Ross is a good player,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said on "49ers Game Plan," which airs Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3).

“He’s gotten better and better since he’s been here. Originally, being an undrafted free agent and making our practice squad, he’s gotten his opportunity. He made a few plays for us at tight end last year. He’s been making some plays at fullback. Ross is up for everything. Whatever you think he can’t do, give him a couple reps at it, and he usually surprises you and figures it out.”

Now, Juszczyk is expected back just as Kittle is likely to be out of action.

Through seven games, Dwelley had a grand total of three receptions for minus-1 yard. He absorbed some good-natured fun at his expense from his teammates and coaching staff for his meager statistical line.

But in Week 9 against the Arizona Cardinals, Dwelley made one of the biggest plays of the game at a key moment with Kittle sidelined late in the fourth quarter with his injuries. On a third-and-9 play, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo found Dwelley for 11 yards. The 49ers were able to run out the clock from there on a 28-25 victory.

“It definitely is a boost in confidence, knowing that coach Shanahan is drawing up plays for you, and that he and Jimmy have faith in you to go to you in that clutch moment,” Dwelley said. “It’s a confidence boost for yourself to know that you can make that play in a clutch moment on the biggest stage.”

Dwelley finished that game against the Cardinals with career-highs of four catches for 29 yards. The 11-yard pass he caught late in the fourth quarter was also the longest of his 19-game NFL career.

Dwelley had an outstanding four-year career at San Diego, where he caught 198 passes for 2,310 yards and 26 touchdowns. Yet, the 49ers were one of the few teams to show any interest in signing him. Jon Embree, the 49ers’ tight ends coach, gave Dwelley his only private workout leading up to the draft.

Dwelley made the 49ers’ practice squad to open his rookie season, then replaced Cole Wick as the team’s third tight end midway through last season. This year, Dwelley solidified his roster spot with a strong offseason.

[RELATED: Kittle's status still in doubt as 49ers-Seahawks showdown nears]

He got stronger, improved his blocking, increased his speed and route-running. It made for a less stressful time at the end of training camp when the 49ers had to trim their roster from 90 players to the regular-season limit of 53.

“I wouldn’t say I knew, but I wasn’t worried at the same time,” Dwelley said of his likelihood of making the team. “I just knew the work I put in during the offseason. I had confidence in myself.”

Henry Ruggs, who ran 4.27 40-yard dash, met with 49ers during combine

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Henry Ruggs, who ran 4.27 40-yard dash, met with 49ers during combine

The 49ers saw firsthand how a blazing-fast receiver like Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs can change a game when Hill's deep catch on third-and-15 swung the momentum in Super Bowl LIV. Henry Ruggs, believe it or not, might be even faster. 

As San Francisco looks to upgrade its receivers for coach Kyle Shanahan's motion-heavy offense, a speedster like Ruggs could be a game-changer. The Alabama receiver said Thursday that he has met with the 49ers at the NFL Scouting Combine. 

Ruggs put on an absolute show Thursday at the combine. After measuring in at 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds, Ruggs ran a ridiculous 4.27 40-yard dash. That is the fastest among receivers this year, and the best time thus far at the combine. His time also is tied with current 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin, who could be on his way out of San Francisco, as the fourth-fastest at the combine since 2006.

That was just the start to Ruggs' big day, too. He also recorded a 42-inch vertical leap and had a 10'11" broad jump. His athleticism simply is off the charts. 

Ruggs joins a growing list of receivers the 49ers have met with at the combine. But it seems highly unlikely he will be available for the NFC champions. The 49ers own the No. 31 pick in the draft this year, and a handful of teams ahead of them make sense as a landing spot for Ruggs. 

[RELATED: Baylor receiver Mims believes his skills match with 49ers]

Before the combine, Ruggs was selected No. 18 overall by the Miami Dolphins in our latest mock draft. It would be a big surprise to see him fall past the New Orleans Saints at No. 24 overall.

It's clear the 49ers are doing their due diligence on a loaded receiver class, and could be eyeing a future star at the end of the first round. Adding Ruggs would be gold to Shanahan's offense.

George Kittle's agent 'very patient' in 49ers contract negotiations

George Kittle's agent 'very patient' in 49ers contract negotiations

George Kittle still is under contract for one more season. The record-breaking tight end will wear a 49ers jersey in the 2020 season, however, the front office already is thinking of how to keep him in San Francisco for years to come.

Kittle is set to earn a base salary of $2,144,000 this upcoming season. Soon, that will be a tiny slice of his contract. The 49ers must sign Kittle to a multiyear contract, and soon. His agent, though, will take his time when it comes to negotiations. 

Kittle's agent, Jack Bechta, told The Athletic's Matt Barrows at the NFL Scouting Combine that he will be "very patient" in getting Kittle the right kind of contract. 

“He’s the poster child of culture for that team, of the type of player they want on that team,” Bechta said to Barrows in Indianapolis.

Kittle is the best player on the team. That isn't changing any time soon. The former fifth-round draft pick was voted first-team All-Pro last season and isn't slowing down. He's the rare combination of size and speed, who is just as excited to block as he is to catch a touchdown pass. 

As of this publishing, Kittle is scheduled to be the 49ers’ 31st highest-paid player for the 2020 season. That soon won't be true. No matter how patient Bechta is, it seems reasonable to expect Kittle to become the highest paid tight end in football, and should make well over $10 million annually.

[RELATED: Kittle's secret to Shanahan's wife gets back to 49ers coach]

Kittle has gone from the steal of the 2017 draft, to perhaps a top-five player in the NFL. He and his agent should both wait until the 49ers back up the Brinks truck. 

It's certain that Kittle is about to get paid. Big time. It just might not happen right away.