49ers Notebook: Two returns near, Shanahan clarifies Sermon’s situation

© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

On the back of their most consequential win of the season, the 49ers are set to embark on a cross-country, one-off road trip against the Jacksonville Jaguars, which, if you’re a believer in trap games, has the signs of one.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan and 49ers talked about avoiding that letdown this week and plenty of other discussion points on Wednesday.

Practice report and imminent returns

Below is the 49ers’ practice participation report for Wednesday.

Won’t practice:

  • Elijah Mitchell (finger) – Shanahan said “I think he’ll go Sunday,” but that he’s day-to-day. He underwent surgery to have a pin placed in his finger on Tuesday.
  • Maurice Hurst (calf)
  • JaMycal Hasty (ankle)
  • Trent Williams (vet day)

Limited:

  • Josh Norman (rib)
  • Jaylon Moore (knee)
  • Deebo Samuel (shin)

Practice returnees will have to earn their jobs back

  • Both Dre Greenlaw and Jaquiski Tartt returned to practice, as the 49ers opened their three-week injured reserve return windows
  • Both of those players were starters before their injuries, but may not get their jobs back immediately. Shanahan said Wednesday that it will be difficult for Greenlaw to unseat Azeez Al-Shaair soon, if at all.

“We’ll see. Greenlaw’s played at an extremely high level too,” Shanahan said. “I think Greenlaw has done a hell of a job in his career here for us. He’s just getting back into practice for the first time in a while, so I do think it would be hard to unseat Azeez right away. Just because of what Azeez has done, he’s played at a high level and I think that’ll take Greenlaw a while to have the chance to pass him up again.”

  • Tartt, too, will have to earn his job.

“I like Huff a lot. I think he’s played well. No, Tartt doesn’t automatically get the starting position,” Shanahan said. “We’re not sitting here trying to replace Tartt either. I think Tartt’s played at a high level for us for a number of years, can do a bunch of things. But even before he got hurt, we were trying to get Huff in there too because of what Huff has brought to the table. But we’ll see how the week goes this week. I’ve got to see where Tartt is at, but I expect them both to play if Tartt’s healthy.”

Shanahan says Sermon’s status not a fault of his own

For weeks, Kyle Shanahan has been saying that Trey Sermon is not in his doghouse, despite his limited amount of snaps, and despite being a player the 49ers traded two fourth-round picks to move up for and draft.

Instead, Shanahan has pointed towards the performance of Elijah Mitchell and JaMycal Hasty, and with Jeff Wilson Jr. back in the fold, there isn’t much room for Sermon.

At this point, Sermon is fourth in the pecking order, and with Hasty currently out, he’s third. The problem, though, is that the only real opportunity he’d have is as a third-down back, which Shanahan admitted is a role he generally doesn’t feel comfortable trusting rookies with. They had Raheem Mostert as their first third-down back (and starter), then Hasty, and are now using Kyle Juszczyk as their current third-down back.

“It’s nothing against Trey. Trey had an opportunity when guys got hurt and I thought he got better in each game with that,” Shanahan said. “But he didn’t do enough for us to put them ahead of Elijah or Jeff. And so it’s pretty much as simple as that, like if Jeff wasn’t out there or Elijah wasn’t, he would have taken one of those two’s roles. When it came to our third downs, we always started out with Raheem, then it went to Hasty. And now we’ve gone with Juice. Not always wanting to put a rookie in a third down role, so he had an opportunity when there was injuries, but those guys have come back and we still have those guys ahead of him.”

What does Shanahan look for in a third-down back? Two things:

“You have to be able to have the capability to block. It starts with that,” Shanahan said. “If not, you’re just another receiver out there who can’t block. So you have to be able to do that, and after that you want someone who can beat man coverage.”

Other notes: Avoiding let-off against Jaguars, Brunskill vs. Donald and shotgun Garoppolo

  • Avoiding trap game in Jacksonville: After a must-win against the Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers are heading down to Jacksonville to face a 2-6 Jaguars team which is 2-2 over its last four games, including a win over the Titans. Jimmy Garoppolo admitted that the 49ers had a “different” level to their practice last week. So how do they maintain that?

“Leaders on the team,” Garoppolo said. “It starts with us. Whether it’s walkthrough, practice, whatever it is we got come with the right mindset and I think trickles down to everyone else.”

  • Daniel Brunskill’s stellar play vs. Aaron Donald: Daniel Brunskill is not an elite right guard in the NFL. That’s pretty much indisputable. But he tends to come with his best against Aaron Donald, and Monday night was no different. One of his clear highlights of the night was pointed out by the always entertaining and insightful Brian Baldinger, when Brunskill threw Donald to the ground.
  • Both Shanahan and Garoppolo were careful about their word choice in describing Brunskill’s performance versus Donald, given that they play the Rams again on the final day of the regular season, but both acknowledged that he played well.

“I wouldn’t use the word dominate. I’m not trying to poke the bear too much,” Shanahan said. “But yeah, I thought he did as good as he could, which is as good as I’ve seen anybody do. Aaron, he’s a different dude, so it was a huge challenge and those guys did as good as they could with him.”

  • Garoppolo enjoying the shotgun: One of the more stunning tactical components of Monday’s game was that the 49ers almost solely had Garoppolo work out of the shotgun, and have started cutting down on the number of bootlegs he runs. Per Pro Football Focus’ Jeff Deeney, from Weeks 1-7, the 49ers ran the fourth-most play-action, at 35.0 percent, and over the last three weeks, have run play action just 9.6 percent of the time, which is the lowest rate in the league. According to Next Gen Stats, Garoppolo has been in the shotgun on 96 percent of his snaps since Week 8 , and he admitted he’s more comfortable that way.

“I think it helps us. I think, obviously our play-action from under center has been good in the past too,” Garoppolo said. “So it’s kind of a pick your poison, I guess, with defenses. It’s a week to week thing though. It really is… I think any quarterback naturally is more comfortable in the gun, just you’re away from the D-Line and everything, but yeah, I’ve done both ways. So I’m pretty comfortable with both.”

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