It was going to have to be a quick recovery for San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle to play Sunday, and it apparently wasn’t quick enough.
The team and head coach Kyle Shanahan ruled out Kittle on Friday as the 49ers released their final injury report, which sees both the tight end and corner Jason Verrett being absent for San Francisco’s first away game of the season to the New York Jets.
OUT: TE George Kittle (knee), CB Jason Verrett (hamstring)
Questionable: DE Dee Ford (neck)
Injured reserve: WR Richie James, CB Richard Sherman
— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoNBCS) September 18, 2020
It’s not especially surprising news, but it’s still obviously a major blow to the 49ers’ offense, which looked like it needed all hands on deck after a mediocre performance against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1.
Now, the team and Shanahan will have to figure out how to produce without their No. 1 passing weapon, although there are some reasons for optimism.
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What Kittle and Verrett’s Absences Mean
One of those aforementioned reasons for optimism is the fact that Brandon Aiyuk has been a full participant in practice this week, after the rookie receiver missed the opener alongside fellow WR Deebo Samuel, who remains on the injury reserve.
However, even getting a promising pass-catcher back in the offense doesn’t come close to replicating what Kittle offers from both a playcalling and playmaking standpoint.
The tight end has a knack for breaking open plays and rising to the occasion in a way not many other players do. If Aiyuk wants to make an early impression, he can do so by bringing the dynamism the team is sorely lacking at the moment.
As for Verrett’s absence, it’s not the end of the world, but it is disappointing. Ahkello Weatherspoon will get the starting nod alongside Emmanuel Moseley and ought to be able to do a decent job, but having Verrett would’ve been a nice insurance policy in case either gets hurt or simply isn’t playing well.
With lead Jets receiver Jamison Crowder ruled out, the secondary shouldn’t face too much trouble, but they are a bit scarce in terms of depth and will need to play clean and consistently while the defensive line pressures Jets QB Sam Darnold.
Dee Ford Named Questionable
Speaking of the defensive line, the latest injury report didn’t rule out defensive end Dee Ford, who hasn’t practiced this week and is likely a game-time decision for the Week 2 contest.
It would be a big boost for San Francisco to see Ford play and to see the defensive line produce after Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray’s mobile play frustrated the 49ers in Week 1 and saw neither Ford nor Nick Bosa earn a sack despite some good pressure.
Darnold doesn’t have nearly as much mobility and the Jets’ offensive line is a step down from Arizona’s so it should be an opportunity for the 49ers’ front four to make some noise.
That task gets a lot easier when Ford is lined up across from Bosa, and San Francisco will have their fingers crossed that the defensive end is back and ready in time.
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.