There were several notable absences from the San Francisco 49ers practice Thursday, though two in particular could pose the team with an interesting decision come its home opener against the Green Bay Packers this weekend.
San Francisco has already lost running back Raheem Mostert for the season. Last year’s leading rusher, Jeff Wilson Jr., will miss approximately half the season with a knee injury sustained during voluntary workouts over the summer. And JaMycal Hasty will be “out for awhile,” with a high ankle sprain, based on the assessment of Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan earlier this week.
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The team’s top two backs, aside from those already definitively ruled out Sunday against the Packers, are current RB1 Elijah Mitchell and Trey Sermon, both rookies. But the similarities between the two don’t end there. They were also both banged up in Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles and both sat out the team’s most recent practice session, or at least the heavy-lifting portions of it.
Matt Barrows, of The Athletic, tweeted the details of those Niners who missed practice and those who were limited participants Thursday.
“No practice today for: Elijah Mitchell (shoulder), RB JaMycal Hasty (ankle), DE Arik Armstead (adductor), DT Kevin Givens (ankle),” Barrows wrote. “Limited: DT Javon Kinlaw (knee), CB Emmanuel Moseley (knee), RB Trey Sermon (concussion).”
Should Mitchell and Sermon both find themselves sidelined Sunday, Shanahan will have a choice to make — which unproven newcomer to the Niners’ roster he will have to trust to carry the load against rival Green Bay and reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers.
Four New RBs Have Joined Niners Over Previous 2 Weeks
David Lombardi, also of The Athletic, took to Twitter to offer his take on what he saw on the Niners’ practice field Thursday, September 23. His assessment indicated Shanahan may not be forced to a tough decision at running back.
“No Elijah Mitchell at 49ers practice today, but Trey Sermon was running around again problem-free in a blue non-contact jersey,” Lombardi tweeted. “It’s trending toward Mitchell being unavailable and Sermon being available for the Green Bay game.”
Regardless of Lombardi’s first-hand read, Sermon remains in concussion protocol and has yet to clear it. Even if he does, the third-round pick out of Ohio State was a healthy scratch in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions and was Shanahan’s third choice last Sunday in Philadelphia. He carried the ball just once, during the 4th quarter after Mitchell and Hasty had gone down with injuries. That play ended with a fumble and Sermon in the league’s concussion protocol.
The Niners have spent much of the last two weeks looking to bolster the position. The team added former Lions RB Kerryon Johnson and former Baltimore Ravens RB Trenton Cannon last week. This week, they bolstered the group with ex-Cincinnati Bengals rusher Jacques Patrick and Chris Thompson.
Of the four, only Johnson has meaningful experience on an NFL field. Over the course of three years on the Lions roster, he appeared in 34 games, starting 16 of them. He gained 1,225 yards on the ground and scored 8 TDs during his time in Detroit, according to Pro Football Reference.
Cannon carried the ball twice for the Baltimore Ravens this season before landing with San Francisco, while Patrick was a member of the Bengals’ practice squad after a strong preseason in 2021.
Niners Have Not Shut Door on Return of Former Pro-Bowl RB
Former Niners RB and San Francisco’s all-time leading rusher Frank Gore remains a running back without a team, and a capable one at that.
The idea of a return to the Bay Area, where Gore made his name and spent the first decade of his career, has been floated. And Shanahan, for his part, has not ruled it out. However, he noted publicly this week his hesitancy to pull the trigger, at least for now.
“I think I would never put anything past Frank,” Shanahan told reporters on Wednesday. “I know if I probably give him a little heads-up and some notice, he’ll always be ready to where he could help a team.”
“I thought it was a little early for that,” the head coach continued, referencing the pursuit of Gore. “Our guys still have a chance of playing this week. So we looked at it as an opportunity with not having 53 on our roster to try to steal someone off someone else’s practice squad, which we did, and then try to add a practice squad guy, which we did with Chris.”