By Cam Inman
SANTA CLARA — The film rolled of Christian McCaffrey during the 49ers’ Wednesday morning meeting and his new teammates took notice.
“He plays our style, our offensive style – yards after catch, and really hits it when he’s running the ball,” defensive end Nick Bosa said with a wide smile at his locker.
McCaffrey later hit the practice field for his first official practice since the 49ers traded for the ex-Stanford star last Thursday from the Carolina Panthers. He sped into action for 22 snaps in the 49ers’ 44-23 loss Sunday to the Kansas City Chiefs, and now McCaffrey can become more of a central figure in Kyle Shanahan’s game plan.
The look of such an additional play-maker took on even more importance Wednesday, when the 49ers practiced without Deebo Samuel, their multi-purpose “wide back” whose hamstring strain puts his availability in question for Sunday’s game at the Los Angeles Rams.
The 49ers (3-4) also were missing fullback Kyle Juszczyk (finger), wide receiver Jauan Jennings (hamstring), left tackle Trent Williams (rest day) and defensive stalwarts Arik Armstead and Dre Greenlaw. Hence, McCaffrey’s presence, as well as cornerback Jason Verrett’s official activation off an injury list, at least provided some sense of relief about much-needed reinforcements.
“Kyle showed a few plays of him in the team meeting today and he looks like he’s part of our team,” Bosa said of McCaffrey.
How exciting was it for Shanahan to hatch a McCaffrey-oriented game plan?
“With Christian, it’s always a lot more fun,” Shanahan answered.
That said, Shanahan then insisted that neither the 49ers nor the Rams deviate much from their schemes.
Is the sixth-year coach sandbagging a revolutionary scheme amid a two-game losing streak? Or is he reminding everyone that the 49ers have won seven straight regular-season meetings, including a 24-9 home win three weeks ago that revived the 49ers after a 1-2 start?
The Rams just encountered that multi-productive threat of McCaffrey, who produced 156 yards from scrimmage (69 rushing yards, 89 receiving yards) in his Panthers’ finale, a 24-10 loss at SoFi Stadium on Oct. 16.
His debut in a 49ers’ uniform (No. 23) saw him open with runs of 10 and 9 yards against the Chiefs. He finished with 38 rushing yards (eight carries) and 24 receiving yards (two catches).
“He was here a day and a half before he put our uniform on. That says a lot about who he is as a pro and as a competitor,” right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “Obviously he’s a huge talent. He’s had a lot of success his whole career and hopefully we can bring him to even more heights.”
Before facing the Chiefs, McCaffrey spent extra time after practice talking with Bobby Turner, who returned as a 49ers consultant last month after serving as a Shahahan-system running backs coach since 1999.
At Wednesday’s practice, McCaffrey spent the first 15 minutes of warmups consulting first with Turner and then Anthony Lynn, the current running backs coach, who, later in running back drills, made sure to align McCaffrey correctly on a receiving route, even if it meant sliding over just a yard. Such details are imperative to an offense that’s struggled to get in sync, and one that could miss Samuel, a proven nemesis to the Rams.
WARD VS. KUPP
Jimmie Ward has coveted playing free safety in recent seasons, but now he’s back to his original, nickel-back role from his first 49ers’ days in 2014. “I’m going to do what the coaches tell me to do. It’s my last year on contract and I’m just trying to be a great, team player.”
Ward could boost his free agency value if he can handle Sunday’s massive matchup against Cooper Kupp. Ward’s hamstring injury kept him out of the 49ers’ Week 4 win, when Kupp drew a career-high 19 targets and had 14 catches for 122 yards, but none for touchdowns and none longer than 18 yards.
“The thing about it, Matt Stafford should have a lot more sacks, because if (Kupp) doesn’t get open, (Stafford) stays on him,” Ward said. “They’ve got a love connection going on there. He stays on him the whole play, just sits there, and pat, pat, pat (the football).”
Verrett was cleared off the physically-unable-to-perform list as his three-week practice window expired. Would the 49ers dare debut the veteran cornerback on SoFi Stadium’s synthetic grass, a surface that could physically and mentally challenge him, seeing how he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his right in the 2021 opener at Detroit? ““I’m not ruling out this week. I want to see how he practices and go from there,” Shanahan said.
Verrett, 31, was limited in practice Wednesday for a 49ers’ unit that lost Emmanuel Moseley to an ACL two games ago. “We’d love to get him back. When he’s out there at full strength, he’s as good as they come,” Bosa said of Verrett, who played 13 games in 2020, but none with Bosa; Verrett missed the first two games that season with a hamstring injury, and Bosa sustained an ACL tear in Week 2.
Ward said of Verrett: “I’m happy for him because it was a long journey for him to come back, after everything he’s been through.”
The 49ers aren’t taking for granted what an overwhelming attraction they are to their fans who show up and fill the majority of seats in their L.A. visits.
“That is so lit to me. To see that many fans in the stands, it’s crazy,” defensive end Drake Jackson, a Southern California native. “It’s like they’re all in the same group chat: ‘Let’s go to this game. Let’s buy these tickets.’ … I’m real thankful for them.”
McGlinchey added: “The 49ers Faithful travel like a college team. It’s really, really impressive. We’re fortunate to have the fan base we have. Even all the way in Carolina, there were more red jerseys there than the home team. It’s so cool to be a part of that. Obviously, our franchise has had a long, long history of being one of the best teams on the West Coast, so we have (fans) up and down California, and every time we’re in Seattle, there’s a couple of thousand people waiting for us at the airport. It’s really cool.”
The Rams’ offense has resorted to silent-snap counts in past 49ers’ visits. “I want to say we’re going to have more fans than them, and, that’s crazy, they won the Super Bowl,” Ward said. “The 49ers’ fans show out. They’re faithful.”
In their last meeting at SoFi Stadium, the Rams’ fans were the ones vociferously celebrating a Super Bowl berth, via a NFC Championship Game comeback.
McGLINCHEY MEA CULPA
Having yielded four pressures and two sacks, McGlinchey blamed poor technique with his feet and hands for his struggles against the Chiefs and specifically Chris Jones, an interior specialist who succeeded in edge-rushing situations, too.
“I have to step up. I have to play better,” McGlinchey said. “I’ve been playing too much good football over the course of this season and last season to let things happen like that in those moments on the field. It’s not something I hang my head over and try to reinvent the wheel. I just have to do what I do better.”
McGlinchey praised the efforts of his fellow linemen, including the 49ers’ new interior trio of center Jake Brendel and guards Aaron Banks and Spencer Burford. “They’ve answered the bell and the three of them have played their (butt) off and continue to get better,” McGlinchey added.
With Juszczyk (finger surgery) unlikely to play, tight end Ross Dwelley is looking forward to again moonlighting at fullback, saying: “I’m going to ask Juice a lot of questions this week and just watch tape from our previous game against the Rams and see what he did.”
Others not practicing: Greenlaw (calf), Armstead (ankle), defensive end Samson Ebukuam (Achilles) and wide receiver Jauan Jennings (hamstring). Armstead has missed four of the past five games as he battles plantar fasciitis and an ankle issue.
Source: Paradise Post