49ers Notebook: Mitchell needs surgery, Shanahan says Lance getting reps he needs

© Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

When the 49ers need a win, they consult the Los Angeles Rams. San Francisco’s prayers were answered on Monday night as they responded to their worst loss of the season with their best.

They picked up a few knocks along the way, though, including to running back Elijah Mitchell, who will undergo surgery on Tuesday.

Injury report and one cut

Mitchell’s injury is the most concerning, but Kyle Shanahan said Tuesday that while he’s not certain how it will play out, there’s a chance Mitchell is back in practice on Wednesday. He wasn’t sure on which hand Mitchell sustained the fracture, but that he can carry with either hand.

“I don’t want to lead you guys on too much, but it sounded like they’re pretty optimistic he’ll be alright,” Shanahan said. “They just got to put a pin in and see how it fits and if they can just protect it; they think they will be able to but we don’t know for sure until the guy who does the surgery does it. But I’m hoping he has a chance to practice tomorrow.”

Shanahan was effusive in his praise of the rookie, who has been leaned on heavily this season and is now dealing with his third injury, following a shoulder and a rib injury.

“He showed us in all the aspects and since he’s gotten here that he’s got what it takes to be an NFL running back in terms of he’s got the talent, the vision, the ability, but you see the toughness and how hard he runs, but also the toughness of playing through all this stuff,” Shanahan said. “We usually don’t know till after the game because he doesn’t complain about much, he just goes to work. Some guys play with injuries but the key to playing with injuries is not letting the injuries make you worse, and when he’s played through some stuff you don’t notice it out there by his play.”

As for the other injured rookie, Jaylon Moore, Shanahan said there was “no major structural damage” and that he’ll be evaluated throughout the week.

Deebo Samuel came out of the game with a shin contusion and will be day to day, while Josh Norman, who’s been dealing with reported fractured ribs for a few weeks, will be limited in practice again this week. He was in a blue non-contact jersey in every day of practice last week.

In roster news, veteran corner Dre Kirkpatrick was waived on Tuesday, which could be interpreted as an encouraging sign for rookie corners Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir.

What was different on Monday? Third-down conversions

Jimmy Garoppolo was near perfect on Monday, going 15-for-19 for 183 yards and 2 TDs, almost exclusively on short passes over the middle.

Those throws are Garoppolo’s favorites, and they came out on time and hit receivers, for the most part in stride.

But above all else, Garoppolo was tasked with making those throws on third down. The 49ers finished 8-for-14 on third down, but executed consistently early on, before they put the game away and conversions became inconsequential.

Here’s how the 49ers’ first five drives went. Garoppolo was consistently asked to convert on third down from 4 to 7 yards out, and did, going 6-for-6 (he drew Floyd offsides) to begin with, and also hitting the game-ending fourth down call to Samuel.

First drive:

3rd/6 – 18 yards to kittle

3rd/1 – 2-yard QB sneak Garoppolo

3rd/4 – 7 yards to Kittle

3rd/6 – 8-yard TD to Kittle

Second drive:

3rd/2 – Defensive offsides, Leonard Floyd

3rd/7 – 20 yards to Samuel

Third drive:

3rd/8 – Sack -3 yards

Fourth drive:

3rd/6 – 19 yards to Samuel

3rd/2 – 4-yard run, Jeff Wilson Jr.

3rd/14 – Incomplete to Kittle

Fifth drive:

3rd/7 – 11 yards to Samuel

3rd/6 – Incomplete to Kittle

Sixth drive:

3rd/6 – No gain, Wilson Jr.

4th/6 – 40-yard TD to Samuel

Shanahan was asked whether he thought Garoppolo has ratcheted his level up over the last three weeks. He stressed the importance of controlling the ball.

“I mean, I think it depends on the game. I mean yesterday I thought he played very well, especially on third down,” Shanahan said. “I think our team plays a lot better when we’re able to dictate the game like that by controlling the clock by how well or defensive by the defense scoring a touchdown.

And by us being able to run it that much. But Jimmy had to be on point in order for us to do that. And that’s what he did a lot in ’19 when we ran the ball a ton, but that only works if you can convert third downs and make some of the passes that keep the out there and we needed to hit when we needed him to do that. I thought he did it very well.”

More reps for Trey Lance?

Coming off their most convincing win of the season and a sterling performance from Jimmy Garoppolo, it could seem odd to ask questions about Trey Lance. But the 49ers are still 4-5, and haven’t been able to put together two consistently impressive wins back to back this season.

Shanahan has said that Lance will always have a chance to play because he has packages for him. He explained that against the Rams, he didn’t feel like there was a substantial matchup advantage to employing those Lance packages.

He also gave something of an interesting answer in terms of the ways in which Lance needs to develop, and how that will happen.

“I mean, Trey’s got the whole playbook in his head. He was able to do that in training camp,” Shanahan said. “If you work at it, you’re gonna learn it all, but it’s about going through it full speed. It’s about going through it in game time tempo and going against the blitzes, all the stuff that can surprise you and knowing when a play is a good play, when it’s a bad play, when you got to get out of something, when you got to get to the number four choice in the progression as opposed to the one you practiced in the week. So that just comes with experience and he’s getting more and more of it and he can never get too much.”

Shanahan is simultaneously saying that Lance needs game reps to improve, while also arguing that the practice reps he’s getting are extremely valuable.

He also refuted the argument that Lance doesn’t have a comprehension of the playbook at this stage, though he also made a distinction between the mental understanding of the playbook and the practical execution of it.

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