Ex-DL Balducci gets promotion to 49ers 53-man roster as O-lineman

Ex-DL Balducci gets promotion to 49ers 53-man roster as O-lineman

SANTA CLARA – Three positions along the 49ers’ offensive line are in flux heading into Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Center Daniel Kilgore was placed on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday with a knee injury. Left tackle Joe Staley’s status is unknown after his streak of 100 consecutive starts came to an end over the weekend with a hamstring strain.

Marcus Martin is likely to start at center against the Falcons. Andrew Tiller would get the call at left guard if veteran Zane Beadles is forced once again to move to left tackle to replace Staley.

The 49ers could enter this week with rookies as the only two healthy backups, including a freshly converted defensive lineman. John Theus, a fifth-round draft pick, made his NFL debut on special teams Sunday against the New York Jets.

Former Oregon defensive lineman Alex Balducci signed with the 49ers as an undrafted rookie and was immediately converted to offensive line. He was signed to the practice squad as a center-guard after being waived during the cut to 53 players. Balducci was promoted to the active roster on Tuesday to take Kilgore's roster spot.

After playing in just four exhibition games as an offensive lineman, Balducci has to be ready to go in a real game after a four-year college career playing on the other side of the ball.

“You just got to fall back on your training,” Balducci said. “I’ve been doing this since OTAs now. I got to pick it up. got to go. If my name’s called, I got to be able to do it.

“I have to make sure I have the little things down. Offensive line is such a technical position. You got to know everything, as far as the techniques, run and pass. I try to pay attention to every detail.”

Why 49ers' biggest disappointment is their second-year defensive players


Why 49ers' biggest disappointment is their second-year defensive players

Editor’s note: The 49ers break for the bye week with a 2-8 record. This is part of a series that recaps the first 10 games with an eye to the future. In this installment, we look at the team’s biggest disappointment.

A lot of the optimism surrounding the 49ers’ season was based on the projected improvements at every level of the defense from the team’s top three picks of the 2017 draft.

Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, was expected to make a considerable leap from his three-sack rookie season.

Linebacker Reuben Foster, a first-round draft pick, was being counted on to emerge into one of the NFL’s top sideline-to-sideline playmakers, as a sure-tackler and turnover-creating machine.

And cornerback Ahkello Witherspon, a third-round selection, was expected to continue to build on his encouraging rookie season to supply the 49ers with a rising performer on the other side of veteran Richard Sherman.

The fact Thomas, Foster and Witherspoon have not made improvements over their rookie seasons rates as the 49ers’ biggest disappointment through 10 games.

Thomas has endured the most hardships, which began early in the offseason when his sister died of suicide. On the field, he has not been able to earn significant playing time as part of the 49ers’ defensive line rotation.

The plan was for Thomas to start at “Leo,” the team’s pass-rush end, then move inside to rush the passer on third downs. But during the New York Giants’ game-winning drive on Monday night, Thomas was not on the field for any of the plays when the 49ers needed to generate a pass rush.

Foster’s offseason development was impacted when he was forced to remain away from the building to deal with criminal charges of domestic violence. A judge ruled there was not enough evidence to proceed with the case. But Foster was suspended for two games at the start of the season for violations of the NFL’s policies on substances of abuse and personal conduct.

Foster has appeared in only six games. He missed the past two games with a hamstring injury. When he has been on the field, he has not produced, either. He nursed a nagging shoulder injury. Foster’s 12 missed tackles is worst on the team, according to Pro Football Focus.

Witherspoon struggled to open the season, as opposing teams isolated him while ignoring Sherman’s side of the field. He lost his starting job early in the season. He started the past four games, as the 49ers enter the bye week.

Witherspoon has been targeted 50 times, according to PFF. He has surrendered 30 catches for 339 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. The opposition’s passer rating against Witherspoon is 113.7.

General manager John Lynch told NBC Sports Bay Area that he expects to see more from Thomas, Foster and Witherspoon in the final six games of the season to create some momentum for 2019.

“He’s got to really start being the player we all know he can be,” Lynch said of Thomas.

As for Foster and Witherspoon, Lynch said, “I expect to see great progress from them.”

49ers assistant coach Shane Wallen copes with tragic Paradise fire

49ers assistant coach Shane Wallen copes with tragic Paradise fire

Shane Wallen was along with his dad on a torturous drive out of Paradise, down the Skyway toward Chico.

His father, Bob Wallen, was in his car with the family pets. Shane Wallen was 200 miles away at the 49ers facility in Santa Clara, where he serves as the team’s assistant strength and conditioning coach.

They were together on the phone.

“He was telling me what he saw,” Shane Wallen said on The 49ers Insider Podcast.

“He was watching 15 to 20 homes burn right in front of him -- businesses, structures, all being burned right in front of him. He’s sitting there saying there’s 10-to-15-foot flames on both sides of the Skyway, and he’s driving right through the middle of it.”

His boss, 49ers strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright, told Shane Wallen if he had to leave to help his family, he should not even think twice about it. And last Thursday evening, just hours after the fire ripped through Paradise, Wallen left the Bay Area to return to his home area.

Tight end George Kittle gave his old bed to Wallen, who strapped it onto his truck to deliver to his dad.

The town of Paradise was decimated in the Camp Fire. As of Thursday morning, there have been 56 confirmed deaths with 297 people still missing. The fire has destroyed 140,000 acres with 40-percent containment.

There have been 8,650 residences and 260 commercial buildings destroyed. Wallen’s father’s house was burned to the ground, leaving just a chimney standing. He was one of more than 50,000 people in Paradise and surrounding areas to be evacuated.

Wallen considers Chico and Paradise his hometowns. He split time as he was growing up between his mom's place in Chico and his father's home of the past 20 years. His mother passed away on July 4, 2012, from cancer.

[JOHNSON: 49ers host fire-struck Paradise High School team on Monday Night Football]

After arriving the area on Thursday evening, Shane Wallen said he met a pregnant woman and her boyfriend, as well as a family with children, sleeping in their cars in a Walmart parking lot in Chico.

Hotels were completely booked and shelters were full. He said he plans to continue to supply blankets, clothing, whatever is needed to lend any assistance.

Wallen returned to the Chico area during the 49ers’ bye week. On Wednesday, he was taken on a tour of the devastation of the Paradise area.

“Moving forward, that’s the same plan I’m going to have when I go back, is to try to help anyone and everyone I can,” Wallen said.

Wallen started a GoFundMe fundraiser to assist those impacted by the fire with a goal of raising $50,000.