Recapping the San Francisco 49ers' Injury Report in 2013
The injury-ridden San Francisco 49ers are a textbook example of why it takes a bit of luck to go far each season. It does not matter what the roster looks like in July—a lot of things have to fall in place. As one of the most stacked ballclubs in the National Football League, even the ‘Niners must be getting butterflies now, having lost their top receiver and top defensive back.
Along with Denver and Seattle, the 49ers were high-ranking Super Bowl favorites before all of the injuries began to pile up. But now? Eh, maybe not so much. At least they're not the undisputed front-runner they were prior. There is more uncertainty than ever, and if the tides don’t change soon, coach Jim Harbaugh will be fielding most of his B-team in Week 1 versus Green Bay.
Between players who are still returning to 100 percent combined with new injuries sustained in 2013 training camp, San Fran is hurting. With this team presently on the mend, the following will include a full breakdown of the 49ers’ current injury report.
2012 Stats: 85 receptions, 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns (13.0 YPC)
Injury: Achilles tear
Severity: 4-5 months (late November, early December return)
Back in May during 49ers OTAs, Crabtree went in motion and planted—as if he were to turn up the field—and that was that. “It felt like somebody kicked him in the Achilles,” said coach Jim Harbaugh, per Mike Sando of ESPN.
It was an unavoidable freak accident.
Since it is not season ending, Crabtree immediately had his right Achilles surgically repaired, which reportedly went very well. He is progressing and projects to be back later in the league year—with any luck, just in time for another playoff run.
This injury has taken hold of the 49ers' offseason so far.
The hottest topic in training camp this year is how the defending NFC champions are going to replace the production of their top aerial threat. Over the past two offseasons, the team has brought in several prospects with real ability. Yet, not a single one has staked his claim, which has led the 49ers to consider free agents Laurent Robinson and Austin Collie, via Matt Barrows on Twitter.
WR Anquan Boldin is easily the favorite to spearhead the group, but the featured gig opposite him is wide open. Given his draft status, the onus should fall directly on 2012 first-round selection A.J. Jenkins, who has the speed to be a dangerous vertical threat.
However, for the second year in a row, he has had difficulty getting off to a hot start in training camp.
Receivers Quinton Patton, Ricardo Lockette, Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams are also options to supplement his production during the regular season. However, all four have presently been sidelined by injury this offseason, with only Lockette and Williams having an opportunity to practice in spurts.
The highlights at WR have come from Marlon Moore and Chad Hall, which is ultimately bad news for the ‘Niners.
In fact, the field production left by Crabtree may force the offense to evolve around other players at different skill positions. The addition of tight end Vance McDonald and this new three-headed backfield the 49ers are set to deploy may be the ticket to moving the ball on Sunday.
Frankly, the 49ers are running low on options elsewhere.
2012 Stats: 88 solo tackles, 32 assists, nine pass deflections, two interceptions and two forced fumbles
Injury: Hand fracture
Severity: Will start Week 1
According to Matt Maiocco, the 49ers All-Pro LB smacked his hand against 6’2”, 248-pound FB Bruce Miller in a blitz pickup situation. In drills like this that are physical in nature, this is always a risk—especially between two super-sized first-teamers like Willis and Miller.
After Willis sat out the rest of the day, NFL insider Ian Rapoport eventually followed up with a report, saying an X-ray revealed that San Francisco’s defensive captain sustained a slight fracture in his hand. On the bright side, he is expected to play as scheduled, and it should not be an issue.
While it is not a damning injury, it's still not what the 49ers wanted to hear.
Fortunately, this is not foreign to Willis, as he played with a cast in college. In 2005 at Ole Miss, he played most of the season with his hand in a hard wrap, but it did not stop him from becoming a first-team All-American.
He was able to play efficient football, relying on his abilities as a tracker and as a fundamental tackling machine. He has also had two more injuries to the hand since entering the pros in 2007. Considering the way he has roamed the gridiron with his massive club, slugging running backs and unsuspecting wide receivers, it is no wonder he eventually earned the nickname "Bam Bam."
Once they’re squared up with him on the field, ball-carriers might find that Willis is even scarier with a built-in sledgehammer for a limb.
And for those curious as to Willis’ ability in coverage, it will not affect his ability to run stride-for-stride with pass-catchers. Though the club may limit his ability to intercept the ball, it is big tool that will take up more space than his actual hand would. Not only will it impede the catch zone, but it can also be used to knock the ball loose after the reception is made.
Moreover, if Willis were to fracture any part of his body, you have to admit, the hand is the best place. For a sideline-to-sideline LB like him, anything to do with the legs or feet would have been a real killer. He will be able to carry on in the regular season, but do not expect to see him in any exhibition matches this year.
2012 Stats: 36 tackles, seven assists, 15 pass deflections and two interceptions
Injury: ACL tear
Severity: Out for Season
On his last rep, Culliver was working as a S/T gunner against rookie CB Marcus Cooper in a punt coverage drill, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area. It sounds as if Cully severely injured his left knee while running in a form of non-contact, since no collision was reported.
The 24-year-old defensive back was on the ground for several minutes, clutching his left knee and evidently in pain. The 49ers’ trainers and coaches tended to him, but when it came time to get him off the field, Culliver could not put any weight on his knee.
On Twitter, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch reported that Culliver was in tears as he was carted off the field, being consoled by the team’s general manager, Trent Baalke. He was immediately transported to nearby Stanford Medical for an MRI to confirm what most feared to be true.
The evening of his injury, NFL insider Ian Rapoport first reported that Culliver indeed sustained a full ACL tear.
Christian Gin of the San Francisco Examiner was 20 yards away and can corroborate the freak occurrence:
@DeSimone80 He was running. Basically he was pretending to be a gunner with Marcus Cooper and it looked like he slipped.— Christian Gin (@Christian_Gin) August 2, 2013
In his second season as a pro, Culliver played like a top-five cornerback, earning high praise from the stat-crunchers at Pro Football Focus. They particularly liked his body of work during the first 13 games of the season when San Francisco’s front seven was healthy and hitting on all cylinders.
In those matchups in 2012, Culliver played 378 snaps against the pass (503 total), lining up at left cornerback nearly 100 percent of the time. When targeted in that stretch, Cully had elite numbers, allowing a mere 42.9 completion percentage, a 53.9 QB rating, only 256 yards and 10.7 YPR, via Jeff Deeney of PFF.
Make no mistake about it: Culliver was well on his way to becoming one of the NFL’s top cover corners. At 6’0” with low 4.3 40 speed (via NFL Draft Scout), he is long, fast and athletic, which has enabled him to hold his ground against big prototypical wideouts like Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.
In today’s league, Cully brings a lot of value to a team. Now that he’s out, the attention immediately shifts toward Nnamdi Asomugha to fill his shoes. When you look at the team’s cornerback group, they are the most similar in terms of body type and what they do well on the field.
Like Culliver, the three-time Pro Bowler most notably excels in man coverage on the boundary.
Moreover, it is in San Francisco’s nickel grouping where Asomugha will have to really step up to the plate. A year ago, Culliver played over 60 percent of defensive snaps, a lot of which came in that particular package. It is the one the Niners deploy to get after the passer and cover downfield in passing situations.
This is a load that the 11-year pro will have to be able to shoulder.
2012 Stats: N/A
Injury: ACL tear
Severity: Out for Season
In his rookie year in 2012, Fleming inopportunely tore his ACL on Day 1 of minicamp.
The fifth-rounder would spend the entire year on injured reserve, never having a chance to see the field. Fleming was optimistic returning this season, earning praise from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and even being moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker with the hopes that he’d excel behind Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.
By all means, it seemed like Fleming was ready to hit the ground running.
According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, Fleming was sprinting downfield on a non-contact kickoff coverage drill and suddenly went down. As fate would have it, the LB ended up re-tearing the exact same knee. The 49ers waived Fleming—who cleared as expected—and will now be on the team’s injured reserve list for the season.
Unlike a few other injured players on the roster, Fleming had not cemented a role for himself to any degree. You can literally count how many NFL practices he has had on one hand. So, the upside of this injury is that the 49ers do not have to focus on replacing anyone, per se.
However, the defensive unit does lack depth at the ILB position, which Fleming was readying himself to play.
The idea this season is for the 49ers carry backers who can establish their presence on special teams. Tavares Gooden and Larry Grant were serviceable players, but the front office thinks it can get better for cheaper.
The notables set to compete are rookie Nick Moody of Florida State and S/T ace Dan Skuta, who San Francisco acquired via free agency. Honestly, as specialists, these two might have beaten Fleming for the job anyway. They project to be vital components in Brad Seely’s rebuilding S/T unit.
Fleming’s injury will not spoil San Francisco’s plans, but it is very unfortunate for the young linebacker, who hopefully has a chance to return from this.
As part of their organizational philosophy, the 49ers are cagey about most of their injuries. The go-to line for Coach Harbaugh has been, “working through something.” It is a perfect answer that acknowledges an injury but also kindly says, “It’s none of your business.”
Forgive the gray areas, but here is what we definitively know:
Aldon Smith, LB, Unknown
It is not alarming, but it is noteworthy. LB Aldon Smith continues to miss practice, out with an undisclosed injury. For anyone taking an educated guess, it may be wise to assume that he is still working his way back from the labrum tear from last season. After all, it was serious enough to impact his performance down the stretch and did require surgery.
NaVorro Bowman, LB, Groin
NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis do everything together, don’t they? Apparently, that now includes getting injured. The 49ers have held No. 53 out with a groin injury, which has kept him in the weight room or on the elliptical. If he rushes it, it will only get worse. But this is nothing to sweat in terms of the regular season.
Quinton Patton, WR, Finger
A peculiar happening in Santa Clara has to be the periodic injuries to the fingers of receivers. The latest victim is rookie WR Quinton Patton, who was seen with a cast on his left index and middle fingers and has been limited because of it, via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News.
A.J Jenkins, WR, Hamstring
Outside of the incapacitated Michael Crabtree, the only first-round wideout in the roster is A.J. Jenkins. The window opened for him by No. 15’s Achilles tear was meant to be the opportune moment for Jenkins to create a place for himself in the rotation at receiver. After failing to distinguish himself early on, Jenkins was the first of several at his position to endure a hamstring injury.
Kyle Williams, WR, Hamstring
The 49ers really needed to get him going in camp, and he was looking exceptional before the injury to his hammy in late July. After being activated from the PUP list for training camp, Williams did not miss a beat, displaying excellent recovery from the recent tear to his anterior cruciate ligament.
Williams thinks it's "unbelievable" that he’s been sidelined again after his fast start.
Kassim Osgood, WR, Hamstring
Osgood is another special teams freak the 49ers added via free agency, but given the situation at receiver, he has earned some real looks. Not to mention, Osgood checks in at 6’5”, 220 pounds, making him San Francisco’s biggest wide receiver. He has also been kept out with a bothered hamstring.
Jonathan Goodwin, C, Unknown
All we know about Jonathan Goodwin is that he is “working through something.” The 49ers’ starting center is out with an undisclosed injury, leaving Daniel Kilgore and Adam Snyder to take turns filling in. Goodwin has missed several sessions, and there is no word on a timetable for his return.
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