The San Francisco 49ers have had a week, and when they step on the field today at MetLife Stadium to take on the New York Giants, it will be without QB Jimmy Garoppolo, TE George Kittle, RB Raheem Mostert, DL Dee Ford and LB Dre Greenlaw.
Beyond that, DL Nick Bosa, DL Solomon Thomas, CB Richard Sherman, RB Tevin Coleman, WR Deebo Samuel, WR Richie James, WR Jalen Hurd and WR Tavon Austin are on IR. And DL Ronald Blair, C Weston Richburg and DL Julian Taylor are on the PUP list.
Luckily, the 49ers have depth, resiliency and maturity.
“I was real proud of the team on Sunday and I think it’s carried over into the week just by the type of practice we had,” Shanahan said in a Zoom conference call with the media on Friday. “It was a very eerie feeling in an empty stadium with no one there and no music. It was silent and when [DL] Nick [Bosa] goes down and it gets even more silent, because they turn off the ambient noise. You’ve got to wait for the cart to come out. It’s just kind of an eerie feeling.
“Then for it to happen two plays later with Solly and just how long it happened and just how weird the whole place is, it didn’t totally feel like anything anyone’s ever been a part of. What I loved about it was how our players responded the rest of that game. They had huge concerns. It was extremely awkward for everybody, but if you turned on the silent tape and watch how they played, you would have never known how it felt when we were there. That’s also how I felt with practice this week, Wednesday, Thursday, and today, and that’s how I expect to feel on Sunday.”
Dealing with Adversity
It is season four of the Shanahan era and this team has seen its share of injuries over that time, because, you know, football. But what makes this team different is experience and knowing how to handle adversity and keep going. It starts at the top.
“The best thing Kyle [Shanahan] has done over and over, and he’s done it since my rookie year, it’s just how brutally honest he is with the team,” said Kittle. “And week in, week out, he doesn’t sugar coat anything. If you lose, ‘Hey, this is why we lost.’… And when you let guys know and hold guys accountable, it makes you want to be better and makes you want to play better. And it makes me want to be a better football player. And so you have guys being held accountable, which is what Kyle does with the entire team. It doesn’t matter who you are. It just kind of, our level of players at a high standard. We expect guys to go out there and perform at very high level and at an elite level. And that’s what Kyle does so great…[H]e gets that out of guys, but he doesn’t have to try. He’s just honest with people…”
The 49ers’ defense has been hit particularly hard this week, losing Bosa and Thomas for the season, but leadership on the field and in the locker room brings the team together.
“You look at the D-Line room and Arik [Armstead] and the leadership role that he’s taken over and the way he practices every day, the deliberate approach he takes to taking care of his body, preparing, watching tape, all of it is phenomenal,” said defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. “Then you go to the linebacker room with Fred Warner and [LB] Kwon Alexander and their preparation, their body maintenance, the weight room, out at practice, the energy that they bring. Then you get to the DB room and those guys with [CB Richard] Sherman and [CB] K’Waun Williams and [DB] Jimmie Ward and Tartt, even [CB Emmanuel] Moseley, the deliberateness at which they approach the game on a daily basis. This team is so internally driven on defense in terms of they all want to be their best.
“There’s a lot of selflessness that goes on, on the defensive side of the ball with those guys. While each individual room has a person that we look to for leadership to bring the unit together, each guy is just so internally driven and so motivated to be their personal best that they’re not worried about so many things that they don’t have control over. They’re worried about being their best and it really comes to the selflessness that they don’t want to let their teammates down. I can’t speak highly enough of the group that we have. I’m really, really excited to see them compete.”
With Garoppolo out today with a high ankle sprain, it will be Nick Mullens under center for the 49ers. Mullens started much of the 2018 season after Garoppolo tore his ACL in week three. Over the last two years, Mullens, his coach and his teammates have seen his game improve.
“Nick works at it all the time,” Shanahan said. “The more you work at it, the more your feet are under you, it’s not all just about the arm. It’s the rhythm within your drops, your drop back, the rhythm with where you’re going and when you’re eligible, seeing things. Then when you can have your feet under you and your cleats in the ground and you let something go on time, you’re going to get the most out of your arm. So, the more he is decisive, the more he knows exactly where he’s going, the more he gets out of his arm. He’s gotten a lot more reps than he did last time, not live reps, but he played pretty well the last time he played and he usually gets most of his reps in camp. He gets a ton on scout team, but it was really good for him this week to get three days in a row with the ones and looked ready to go.”
Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who has been with the 49ers just over a week, can see a spark in Mullens.
“There’s some fire in that thing,” Sanu said. “Nick’s been coming in, taking command in the huddle, making plays, not much of anything changed. I mean, Jimmy did same thing. So, you could tell that they have a certain standard in our room, how they carry themselves, how they practice…So quarterbacks been doing their thing.”
For Mullens, the improvement haven’t just been physical, but they’ve been mental as well.
“[F]irst you come into the NFL and you’re just trying to get comfortable with all the different situations and things like that, but the way that Coach Shanahan has motivated us as a team, you can handle anything,” Mullens said. “…You just control what you can control, you work to get better every single day. You know what you need to improve on in your game and at different times and how you can get better. That’s the daily mindset that I’ve had and that you have to have to be successful.”
Try not to panic 49ers fans. The team is in good hands.
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