SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The already banged-up San Francisco 49ers pass-catching corps added even more uncertainty Sunday when tight end George Kittle suffered a sprained left knee in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
That injury could put Kittle’s status for Week 2 against the New York Jets up in the air depending on how this week plays out, coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday.
“We’ll see how he comes in on Wednesday,” Shanahan said. “He was a little sore today but we’ll wait to see how he is on Wednesday to see if he’s able to practice or be able to go this week. We know there will be some question.”
Kittle came up hobbling near the end of the first half after taking a hit from Cardinals safety Budda Baker. Kittle was able to walk to the sideline, where he was evaluated by medical staff before heading to the locker room early.
But Kittle returned after halftime and seemed to make it through the game OK, though he had no catches and was not targeted in the final two quarters after posting four catches for 44 yards on five targets in the first half.
After Sunday’s 24-20 loss to the Cardinals, Kittle was his usual, optimistic self.
“I feel fantastic,” Kittle said. “Fantastic. Not an issue at all.”
Last season, Kittle suffered what Shanahan called a “popped capsule” in his left knee in a Week 9 win at Arizona in which he also returned and finished the game. He missed the ensuing two games, though it’s worth noting he also was dealing with an ankle injury that was considered the more troubling of the two ailments at the time.
Keeping Kittle, 26, in the lineup could be even more important for the Niners this week than it normally would be. That’s because they continue to deal with an onslaught of injury issues at wide receiver.
San Francisco put receiver Deebo Samuel (Jones fracture in his left foot) on injured reserve Saturday. Shanahan acknowledged Monday that Samuel, who the team had hoped would be ready for Week 1, suffered a setback in a recent workout.
“We didn’t think it was a setback because he was just real sore after running one day,” Shanahan said. “But the soreness never got better. It just got worse and worse after one specific day, and usually after one day when it was sore, we thought it was just because he worked it hard, but when that got worse each day and not better, it ended up being a little bit of a setback, so that’s why we ended up putting him on IR.”
Shanahan said the hope remains that Samuel will be able to return for the Oct. 4 game against the Philadelphia Eagles and that the setback wasn’t serious enough to extend that timetable right now.
In addition, Richie James Jr. suffered a hamstring injury Sunday. Like Kittle, James will have to be monitored as the week goes on.
After James’ departure Sunday, the Niners were down to just three healthy wideouts — Dante Pettis, Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor — on the 53-man roster. That group struggled to produce, collecting a combined four catches for 41 yards on 11 targets.
If all goes well this week, there could be some reinforcements on the way. Shanahan said Monday he would “be surprised” if first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk is not able to play this weekend as he works his way back from a hamstring injury.
And, depending on James’ status, the 49ers could turn to veteran wideout Mohamed Sanu, who played for Shanahan with the Atlanta Falcons in 2016 and is a free agent. The Niners still have an open roster spot after placing Samuel on injured reserve, so adding Sanu would be relatively painless from a roster standpoint.
“We’ll see how these injuries go but I love Sanu,” Shanahan said. “He’s a hell of a player. So, him being out there is always a possibility. We’ll look into everything that we have, though. We have got to know our numbers that are gonna be up this week, which we don’t have that settled yet. But I wouldn’t rule that out at all. He’s available and he’s definitely a guy I really respect and I think everyone in this league respects. We’ll see how it goes this week.”