49ers Rule Out Another Starting Defender, Citing Neck Spasms

GETTY Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers looks on during the warm up before the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Levi's Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Santa Clara, California.

Tight end George Kittle and corner Richard Sherman had already been ruled out for Week 2, but now the San Francisco 49ers will be without a key defensive lineman.

Per the team’s official website, defensive end Dee Ford has been downgraded from questionable to out, with the culprit apparently being neck spasms.

Ford had been questionable all week before Saturday, so it doesn’t come as a major surprise. However, considering how integral the 49ers’ pass rush is to the team’s defensive play, it’s still a loss that the team will feel when they take on the New York Jets on Sunday.

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Impact on the 49ers

It certainly doesn’t help to lose a starting edge rusher, even if Ford has been the less impactful of the two sides of the defensive line. Neither Nick Bosa nor Ford got a sack in the Week 1 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, but both play huge roles for San Francisco.

The dominance of the 49ers’ defensive front in 2019 cannot be understated, neither can the importance of their play. Getting after the quarterback and making life difficult for the opposition in the trenches is a cornerstone of any great defense, and the proof was evident for San Francisco last season.

While Ford only contributed 6.5 sacks, he did so in 11 regular-season games, and having to worry about a guy with the capability to win and get to the quarterback on any given play opens up space not just for Bosa, but for interior lineman like rookie Javon Kinlaw.

While Kerry Hyder and Kevin Givens proved to be solid depth last week, with the latter getting the 49ers’ sole sack of the game, Ford’s quality is just simply better and will be missed.

The responsibility that Bosa already bears will now grow, as it will for the entire defensive line. Expect versatile defensive lineman Arik Armstead to line up more often on the outside as the team attempts to seamlessly adapt without Ford.

Hroniss Grasu Promoted

With Ford inactive, the team again promotes center Hroniss Grasu, as Ben Garland is still not a 100 percent lock to be back in time for Sunday.

Grasu did a reasonably fine job for the 49ers against the Cardinals, not exactly standing out for good or bad reasons, which is generally what you expect and want from a guy who is ostensibly the team’s third-string center.

Garland has the proven track record of performing in big games for the 49ers, stepping in during the end of the 2019 season for still-injured center Weston Richburg and providing a string of really good outings.

It’s an easy choice for the 49ers, even with Grasu holding his own against Arizona, but the team does have the added bonus of being able to rely on Grasu should push come to shove, and that may end up being the case against the Jets.

We won’t know who’s starting until gametime, but San Francisco has their bases covered in the meantime.

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Evan Reier is a sportswriter covering the San Francisco 49ers for Heavy.com and local sports for the Montana Standard in Butte, Mont. Reach out to him on Twitter at @evanreier and join our 49ers community at Heavy on 49ers on Facebook.