SANTA CLARA — George Kittle was not present during a brief media window Friday as the 49ers put the finishing touches on preparation to face the Chicago Bears in their regular-season opener.
Kittle did not practice all week with a groin injury, and it’s likely he’ll miss at least the first game. Coach Kyle Shanahan talks with the media following practice, at which time there will be an official injury designation.
In an early morning scheduled appearance on KNBR, Shanahan was holding out hope for some good news.
“I’m really hoping that he’ll be all right,” Shanahan said. “I’m trying to think positively on it. He didn’t end up getting to go yesterday and he’s not in here today yet. Treatment starts at 7 (a.m.). They’ll hit him hard, and they’ll do it all morning and hopefully he’ll be out there and get some red zone work today.”
Unless Kittle made an appearance after the media was excused, it didn’t happen that way and it means the 49ers will visit the Bears at Soldier Field using some combination of Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner and Tyler Kroft at tight end.
To refresh Kittle’s medical chart, he’s endured many issues since resetting the tight end market with a contract extension (five years, $75 million) prior to the 2020 season. Kittle missed only three games his first three seasons. Being out Sunday would be the 12th game Kittle has missed due to injury in the last 34.
Kittle was bothered almost all last season by a calf issue, and while he only missed three games, the first coincided with Trey Lance’s first career start, an October loss at Arizona. When injuries took out a slew of 49ers’ starters in 2020, Kittle missed half the season with a knee sprain and foot fracture.
Kittle spent six games on injured reserve with that foot fracture before returning for the final two games, despite the 49ers staggering to a 6-10 record.
READY OR NOT, HERE THEY COME
Left tackle Trent Williams is one of the best in the business. Line coach Chris Foerster feels good about the chances of a rebound for right tackle Mike McGlinchey, and the fact that the 49ers played Jake Brendel very little in the preseason is a tipoff they’re OK with Alex Mack’s replacement at center.
That leaves left guard Aaron Banks and right guard Spencer Burford, who get their baptism under fire Sunday after playing extensively in the preseason. Foerster is as curious as anyone to see how they play.
“You don’t know until it’s a game situation in a game setting, and then you really get to realize where a guy really is,” Foerster said.
Banks was a second-round draft pick out of Notre Dame who played sparingly as a rookie. Much has been made about how he rebuilt his body in the offseason and came in ready to assume a starting role. Burford, a rookie fourth-round pick out of Texas San-Antonio was farther along in his first year, seized a starting position during OTAs and has never looked back.
“It’s been up and down for both (Aaron) and Spencer,” Foerster said. “They’ve also had more reps so they’ve had more chances to be up and down. We’ve got a long season and every guy has something to work on.”
McGlinchey had his season cut short last year with a torn quadriceps which required surgery. In training camp, he needed a platelet-rich plasma injection for his left knee. But McGlinchey has performed well of late, Foerster said.
“He looks the best he’s looked, knock on wood that he holds in there,” Foerster said. “These last few days, he’s looked like the Mike that we all hoped he would look like.”
Foerster has been around long enough to realize that Week 8 and Week 17 may look completely different in terms of personnel than Week 1.
“I’ve been on too many teams and too many lines where I hope it doesn’t happen here, but every guy in that room ends up playing, from practice squad guys to the second team tackle,” Foerster said.
Williams understands the concern of changing of the guards and center, as well as McGlinchey’s health issues.
“You get those doubters, and those doubters are there for a reason,” Williams said. “They didn’t start, none of them really played last year, so the questions come with good reason. But it’s their job to answer it and I think that’s for everybody in this organization.”
With Jimmie Ward out a minimum of four games on injured reserve with a hamstring strain, the 49ers have remained coy about who will start at free safety along with second-year strong safety Talanoa Hufanga.
Tarvarious Moore, recovered from an Achilles’ tear, is one option, as is George Odum, signed predominantly as a special teams player from the Indianapolis Colts but with seven starts last season. Another option is elevating Dontae Johnson or Tashaun Gipson from the practice squad to get some snaps.
“We have multiple guys that we can put in that position, so we’re still working through that,” defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. “You guys will see what happens on Sunday.”
Hufanga, in his second year out of USC, said Ward will be missed.
“Not having Jimmie’s presence is definitely felt but we brought in some great guys,” Hufanga said. “Everyone has experience. We’re just trying to build day in and day out.”
NFL rules allow two players to be flexed to the game day roster on Saturday. The same player can be flexed only three times in a season and after that would have to remain on the 53-man roster.
Possibilities include wide receiver Malik Turner, a core special teams player who has been working as a personal protector in punt formation, as well as safeties Johnson and Gipson and center Keaton Sutherland.
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