Preseason NFL football is about two things. First, a coaching staff wants to find the best players and fit them onto a 53-man roster. Second, everyone keeps their fingers crossed against injuries.
In Thursday night’s exhibition opener for the 49ers, a 24-21 win over the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium, the Niners suffered several injuries to key players – and some may keep those players off the field for a while.
In just the first half, six players – including four starters and two important reserves – had to leave the game, according to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle: tight end George Kittle (shoulder), inside linebacker Malcolm Smith (hamsgtring), defensive tackle Solomon Thomas (concussion), running back Matt Breida (shoulder), outside linebacker Eli Harold (knee) and offensive tackle Garry Gilliam (concussion).
Harold returned later, so he should be OK. But head coach Kyle Shanahan after the game told reporters he doesn’t expect Kittle or Breida to practice or play this week.
Said Shanahan of the injuries Thursday night: “It’s what scares you about training camp. It’s what scares you about the preseason. You kind of just want the game to end when those things start happening because you want those guys when the season starts. But we also need to practice to get better. So it’s just something you have to deal with.”
The 49ers went into the game with several other key players not even suiting up because of training camp injuries, including cornerback Richard Sherman (hamstring), wide receiver Trent Taylor (back), defensive end Arik Armstead (hamstring), guards Joshua Garnett and Jonathan Cooper (knees), linebacker Brock Coyle (hip) and cornerback K’Waun Williams (ankle).
The injuries overshadowed a late-game comeback by the 49ers led by third-string quarterback Nick Mullens, who put together two fourth-quarter TD drives. Young receivers Victor Bolden (three catches, 54 yards) and Richie James (four catches, 46 yards) were key targets for Mullens.
The 49ers will resume exhibition action on Saturday, Aug. 18 with a game in Houston against the Texans.