By Sam McPherson
Former starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick won't be the only big name on the bench for the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. However, most of the other familiar names on the bench will be there because of injury. The list of walking wounded for the 49ers this year is just another reason, in addition to the Kaepernick-led offense's struggles, for the team's decline into the basement of the NFC West.
This week, for example, four key starters were unable to practice yesterday during the team's workouts in preparation for Week 9's game at Levi's Stadium. Start with running back Carlos Hyde (stress fracture in foot); what's the point of trying to rush him back when the team has already benched the starting QB? There's no timetable really for Hyde's return to the lineup for a 2-6 team facing a 6-2 team, especially with a bye week on the immediate horizon. Look for Hyde to miss the Falcons game, take the extra week of rest with the bye and perhaps be back in Week 11 to face the Seattle Seahawks on the road.
San Francisco added two RBs to the roster this week (Shaun Draughn and Pierre Thomas). Those new additions will backup Kendall Gaskins at the position in support of QB Blaine Gabbert. Atlanta may not be a defensive juggernaut, but the Falcons have to be licking their lips at the prospect of playing that bunch instead of Kaepernick and Hyde.
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin (hamstring) missed Week 8's game at St. Louis, which didn't help Kaepernick or the offense, as Boldin has been the team's best WR since he joined the 49ers in 2013. However, he is in the same position as Hyde. What's the point in pushing Boldin on to the field this week at less than 100 percent when the bye week lies just ahead? It's hard to imagine that scenario. Look for WR Quinton Patton to get more action this week with Gabbert at quarterback.
Cornerback Kenneth Acker (chest, concussion) is questionable until he clears the league's concussion protocols. With WR Julio Jones coming to Levi's, that's not good news for the 49ers defense. CB Tramaine Brock would probably draw that matchup most plays, anyway, but losing Acker would be a blow to the depth of the secondary since he's been playing so well lately. Brock has a shin problem that forced him to miss some of Thursday's workouts, but he should be good to go against Jones and the Falcons receiving corps.
Offensive tackle Alex Boone is expected to play despite the knee issues that kept him out of workouts yesterday. He has been battling the knee problem for some time now and hasn't missed a game yet this year. That's good news for Gabbert and the new stable of RBs to have Boone out in front of them.
In addition to these four players that missed yesterday's practices entirely, there was a group of four important players limited in workouts on Thursday as well (including Brock, as noted above). Linebacker NaVorro Bowman (shoulder) has averaged 10 tackles a game this year and even with the shoulder problem, he will be on the field Sunday because he's NaVorro Bowman. Fellow LB Ahmad Brooks also has a shoulder issue which limited him in practice yesterday, but he is expected to play as well. Obviously, if either player takes a block the wrong way against the Falcons, that could spell doom for the 49ers defense.
Tight end Garrett Celek, now the presumptive starter after the trade of Vernon Davis to the Denver Broncos on Monday, did some non-contact drills on Thursday as he recovers from a concussion. It's a good sign he participated, but Celek may be a game-time decision on Sunday pending league clearance. If he can't go, Vance McDonald will start in his place, and having reliable hands at tight end can only help Gabbert's effectiveness.
Alex Boone, Offensive Guard (knee)
NaVorro Bowman, Linebacker (shoulder)
Tramaine Brock, Cornerback (shin)
Ahmad Brooks, Linebacker (shoulder)
Kenneth Acker, Cornerback (chest, concussion)
Garrett Celek, Tight End (concussion)
Anquan Boldin, Wide Receiver (hamstring)
Carlos Hyde, Running Back (foot)
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.
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