SANTA CLARA — Coach Kyle Shanahan voiced no objections Friday to the NFL’s juggling of schedules because of COVID outbreaks elsewhere in the league, even though his 49ers have avoided a single case this season.
Two of the games rescheduled for Tuesday involve teams jockeying with the 49ers (7-6) for NFC playoff position: Washington (6-7) visits the Eagles (6-7), and the Los Angeles Rams (9-4) host the Seattle Seahawks (5-8).
The Raiders’ game at Cleveland also got bumped, from Saturday to Monday in light of the Browns’ COVID cases.
“I couldn’t imagine playing a game missing 25 guys. It’s hard missing seven,” Shanahan said after Friday’s practice. “I’m not paying attention to who and what (teams got rescheduled). Sounds like it makes more sense to me.”
All the chatter about COVID has Shanahan concerned about his 49ers maintaining focus for Sunday’s home game against the Atlanta Falcons (6-7). He addressed his players extra long after Friday’s practice to reinforce that concern.
“I understand the distractions but you can get consumed thinking and talking about this, like everyone is,” Shanahan said. “Now with Christmas coming and things like that, you’re just not as focused. … (The Falcons) will be focused and we have to make sure there’s no excuses for us not to be.”
The league imposed stricter COVID protocol for all teams Thursday, and that meant the 49ers transitioned Friday to virtual meetings and carry-out food, as was the case late last season.
Said Shanahan: “We didn’t have the most concern for us, because we’ve been fortunate it hasn’t entered here, yet, and hopefully it won’t.”
“Stay safe, guys,” guard Laken Tomlinson told reporters as he finished his press conference Friday.
Not all 49ers were warm to the NFL’s enhanced COVID guidelines. “I definitely think there’s some frustration in the locker room, especially because we’ve been clean this whole year,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said Thursday. “We haven’t even sniffed COVID here, and we’ve been following all the rules we’ve been given.”
Santa Clara County’s health codes forced the 49ers to relocate to Glendale, Ariz. the final month of last season. The 49ers have only two home games remaining — Sunday against the Falcons, Jan. 2 against the Houston Texans. They have two away games left on the regular-season schedule — Thursday at the Tennessee Titans, Jan. 9 at the Los Angeles Rams — before likely hitting the road as a wild-card playoff team.
The 49ers haven’t had any breakthrough cases of COVID-19 since three players (Jaquiski Tartt, Emmanuel Moseley, Jauan Jennings) were put on that reserve list upon reporting to training camp.
The Falcons put three players on COVID reserve Monday: linebackers Emmanuel Ellerbee and Quinton Bell, and cornerback Cornell Armstrong. Next Thursday’s host, the Titans, put wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick and safety Jamal Carter on COVID reserve this week; they’ve had 17 players plus coach Mike Vrabel placed on that list since camp.
Last year, the 49ers had four offensive players on COVID reserve –Trent Williams, Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne — when they lost to the Green Bay Packers in a regularly scheduled Thursday night game.
MITCHELL’S KNEE ISSUE
Leading rusher Elijah Mitchell’s rookie season remains on hold, more so because of a knee issue rather than the concussion symptoms he reported Dec. 6. He has not practiced since then, but he did do individual conditioning this week, and he’s close to emerging from the NFL’s concussion protocol.
“With the pain tolerance of his knee, we thought it’d go down faster and it hasn’t gone quicker than we thought,” said Shanahan, adding he’s more hopeful than optimistic Mitchell will return for Thursday’s visit to Tennessee.
Jeff Wilson Jr. and Samuel again will be the 49ers’ top options to run against a Falcons defense that is allowing 117.1 rushing yards per game (23rd fewest).
Wilson said of that tandem: “It’s not me and Deeobo’s first rodeo. We’ve been around each other three years now. He knows me and I know him. With the ball in our hands, we have the same mindset: nobody can bring us down and we’re going to score.”
#49ers Jeff Wilson Jr. on his Friday feels:
“Good Friday. You always got to have a lot of pep. Everything is positive. No mistakes. Make sure things are upbeat and tempo. Getting ready to roll into Sunday. Big smiles on Friday.” pic.twitter.com/0U34yXGvK7
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) December 17, 2021
Cornerback Dontae Johnson rejoined practice, a week after flying to east coast to be at the side of his ailing mother, Holli Garner, who passed away Sunday. The 49ers had planned for Johnson to start last game in place of Emmanuel Moseley (injured reserve; ankle), and he could start this game, though the 49ers will monitor his mindset leading up to the game.
Ambry Thomas made his first start at Cincinnati and spent this week practicing in limited fashion while progressing through concussion protocol. He’s listed as questionable for Sunday, as are defensive tackle D.J. Jones (knee) and safety Jaquiski Tartt (glute).
Linebacker Fred Warner (ankle) and tight end George Kittle (knee) are fully cleared, but linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair (elbow) is doubtful.
Falcons’ sack leader Dante Fowler (calf) is questionable, and safety Erik Harris (chest) is out.
Tomlinson justifiably thinks he’s having his best season, and he credited his fellow linemen for that. “Having Alex to my right then Trent to my left has given me a level of confidence that I’ve never really had before. Having those two stable, All-Pro guys next to me has given me a lot of confidence in my game.”
Tomlinson hasn’t allowed a sack this season, to which he humbly said: “I take pride in my job, but at the end of the day, it’s all five (linemen) of us. If we all don’t go out and function well, we won’t win games.” When they do win, Tomlinson has a tradition dating back to 2019: victory donuts, to which he said: “During the week, I don’t eat sugary stuff, so I tell them to save it for after the game.”
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) December 17, 2021
HALL OF FAME TWINBILL
John Taylor and Patrick Willis are being enshrined this weekend into the Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. 49ers Hall of Fame. Taylor’s 10-year career was highlighted by his game-winning touchdown for the 1989 team in Super Bowl XXIII. Willis also played his entire career with the 49ers, making seven Pro Bowls in eight seasons before retiring after the 2014 season. Willis is a semifinalist for the third time in as many years for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Also being recognized at Sunday’s game is defensive lineman Arik Armstead as the 49ers’ nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year a second consecutive season.