SANTA CLARA — George Kittle’s season debut should come Sunday night in Denver, and while his explosive ability as a receiver could complement Jimmy Garoppolo’s first start since last season’s playoffs, Kittle’s blocking prowess will enhance the NFL’s No. 4 rushing attack.
“He means a ton in both (facets),” coach Kyle Shanahan said Friday, when Kittle fully was cleared to play. “He’s one of our better players. Having him out there is a huge deal for us.”
That leads to the weekly question: Which 49ers’ running backs will play?
Jeff Wilson Jr. is coming off an 83-yard, turn-back-the-clock effort in Sunday’s home-opening win over Seattle, so he’ll remain the primary option to take Garoppolo’s handoffs or pitches.
And then? Well, with Elijah Mitchell on Injured Reserve (knee) and Ty Davis-Price (ankle) likely out a month, the 49ers’ remaining options are to give rookie Jordan (“J.P.”) Mason his first NFL touches, to have veteran Marlon Mack make his 49ers’ debut, and, perhaps most irristable of all, to let Deebo Samuel take the ball and rumble.
“Yeah, I need a program and a depth chart to know who’s up for sure,” run game coordinator Chris Foerster quipped Thursday. “So it’s been rough at that position for those guys.”
#49ers Friday practice:
George Kittle participating, as is OT Colton McKivitz
Arik Armstead (foot) still not practicing, as case all week
Official status reports coming in about hour pic.twitter.com/UbPD2b9Gi4
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) September 23, 2022
Regardless, it’s not a one-man band in the backfield, with Garoppolo working as the handoff maestro.
Wilson is a favorite of coaches and teammates, but as Foerster noted: “Jeff’s thing has been, out of all of it, has been durability. He runs like a big back. He runs physically. He runs tough. … With all of them, you just can’t wear them out. That’s why you have to have a couple guys back there that can tote the rock, even on the good running teams.
“When you look at Cleveland, who’s an excellent running team, they’ve got the two runners, you’ve got (Nick) Chubb and you’ve got (Kareem) Hunt. … There’s traditionally, always a second guy, so it’s not going to be Jeff Wilson, just toting the mail every single snap.”
Wilson had 18 carries against the Seahawks, and Davis-Price had 14 while, unbeknownst to him and the 49ers, the rookie was playing on a high ankle sprain, an injury that will keep him out Sunday and maybe shelve him a month. Samuel had just four carries, but he took one for 51 yards.
“At the end of the day, they’re going to try to feature Deebo and try to get him all of his touches,” Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero said Thursday. “(The Broncos) understand that it’s going through him and going through (No.) 85, (Kittle). The run game is the key to their success.”
Kittle injured his groin Sept. 5 and missed the first two games this season. He resumed practicing last Friday.
Defensive tackle Arik Armstead is questionable to play, after not practicing all week because of a foot issue; he was not seen Wednesday in an orthopedic stabilizing boot. That spot might be where the 49ers are deepest. Starting next to Javon Kinlaw could be Kevin Givens, Hassan Ridgeway or even the versatile Charles Omenihu. Practice-squad options include Alex Barrett and Akeem Spence.
BRONCOS INJURY REPORT
Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (knee, hip) is questionable after missing Wednesday and Thursday practices but being limited in the Broncos’ Friday session. Also questionable are rookie cornerback Pat Surtain II (shoulder), defensive end Dre’Mont Jones (neck), right tackle Billy Turner (knee), wide receivers K.J. Hamler (knee/hip) and Tyrie Cleveland (hamstring), linebackers Josey Jewell (calf/knee) and Jonathon Cooper (hamstring), offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz (hamstring) and defensive lineman Mike Purcell (elbow). Only cornerback Darius Phillips (hamstring) got ruled out.
A day after an ankle injury kept him from practicing, Colton McKivitiz participated in Friday’s session and was listed as questionable. He is the top backup to left tackle Trent Williams and right tackle Mike McGlinchey, with Jaylon Moore is also in reserve. Daniel Brunskill (hamstring) hasn’t practiced since getting hurt in the preseason opener and will miss his third straight game. Also out is tight end Tyler Kroft (knee).
SCOUT TEAM HONORS
Defensive lineman Alex Barrett, wide receiver Danny Gray and defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight were the scout team’s players of the week.
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