The offseason is quickly coming to a close! San Francisco 49ers rookies report to training camp on Wednesday, which means football is getting close. The first official practice is July 24, so we will not hear a lot from the rookies over the next eight days. But they get to work with the coaching staff to get further prepared for their first contact practices, and preseason action.
The 49ers have a mix of injured and healthy rookies coming into camp. Once again, the 49ers are back with several potential medical redshirt candidates. The 49ers went through an extensive process evaluating the injury background of each player. Last year we broke down the injury status of the 49ers entire draft class, and we're back with it again. Today, we'll take a look at the 49ers various draft picks, and Thursday we'll break down the 49ers undrafted free agent additions.
Jimmie Ward, Safety
The 49ers first round pick suffered a foot injury that cost him a chance to work out at the NFL Combine. It is actually difficult to figure out when the injury occurred, because Ward was not aware of it prior to his Combine medical exam. The medical evaluation revealed the fracture, and Combine procedures required he sit out the workouts. The injury was described as a Jones fracture, and he had surgery on it on March 11.
A Jones fracture occurs at the base of the fifth metatarsal bone (the one connected to the pinky toe). It is often mistaken for a sprain or tears. The problem with a Jones fracture is the area has limited blood supply. Jones fractures can take much longer to heal. A true Jones fracture often results in a non-union (the permanent failure of a bone to heal) if it is not identified and managed properly. Jones fractures can be acute (sudden) or chronic. That area of the bone often results in a stress reaction and is predisposed to re-injury.
During Ward's career at Northern Illinois, he only missed one game due to injury. In 2012, Ward suffered an A/C joint sprain that cost him a game against Massachusetts. He returned 11 days later for NIU's next game, and was the team's leading tackler. There is some concern about his size (5'10, 193 pounds), but he's held up to the physicality thus far. His health will be something to track this fall.
Carlos Hyde, Running Back
Hyde suffered a hamstring strain running his 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He ran a 4.66 40 as he came up limp, and did not run his second 40 yard dash. Hyde did not run at the Ohio State Pro Day, but he appears to be fully recovered from the hamstring injury. He was a full participant in the 49ers offseason workout program, and he should be good to compete in training camp.
Prior to the hamstring injury, his only notable college injury was a sprained MCL in 2012. He sprained the MCL in his right knee against Central Florida in Week 2. He missed their games against Cal and UAB, but was back the following week against Michigan State.
Marcus Martin, Center
The 49ers newest addition to the center competition suffered what was eventually described as a dislocated kneecap. The injury occurred in USC's regular season finale against UCLA. Martin sat out the team's bowl game, and worked on his rehab throughout the draft process. He was limited at the NFL Combine, but he was able to participate in his own campus Pro Day workout. Martin took part in the 49ers offseason workout program, and was a full participant, getting second team center snaps behind Daniel Kilgore.
All indications are that Martin is ready for training camp and should not be slowed at all by the knee injury. We took a look at some of his rehab when we broke down the injury earlier this month.
Brandon Thomas, Guard
Thomas is the first of the 49ers three ACL all stars. Thomas was Clemson's starting left tackle for all 26 games over the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He was looked at as a guy who would probably move inside to guard, but his versatility would only benefit an already strong draft stock. Unfortunately, Thomas suffered a torn ACL during his workout with the New Orleans Saints in early April. It led to him sliding a bit, and the 49ers grabbing him in the third round. Given the April injury, Thomas will spend the season on the NFI list. The 49ers will have a three week window to get him on the practice field late in the season before having to fully shelve him, so we might hear him getting a chance to join in walkthroughs.
This is the second ACL injury Thomas has suffered in his career. In 2008, Thomas suffered a torn ACL as a high school senior, leading to a 2009 freshman redshirt year at Clemson. I cannot find out whether or not the high school ACL was to the same knee as his Saints workout injury. If anybody can find any details on that, please let me know in the comments.
Bruce Ellington, Wide Receiver
The former South Carolina football and basketball player has generally stayed on the field, but he missed some time here and there with various minor injuries. In 2012, he suffered a shoulder injury against UAB, but was back a week later in the starting lineup. In 2013, he dealt with a hamstring injury throughout preseason training camp. He did not start South Carolina's season opener, but did make an appearance in the game. In October 2013, he suffered a foot injury, which Steve Spurrier described as a strain of the top of his foot. He did not start the next week against Tennessee, but I believe he came off the bench. Even if he did miss the game, he bounced back the following week to put up 10 receptions for 136 yards and two touchdowns at Missouri.
All indications are that he is currently 100 percent healthy and good to go for training camp. He stands 5'9, 197 pounds, which is the smallest among the wide receivers likely to make the roster. How he handles the size difference with NFL cornerbacks will be something to watch. The 49ers like their big physical receivers (Crabtree is 6'1, 214; Boldin is 6'1, 220; Johnson is 6'2, 207), so we'll see how they work in a slightly smaller receiver.
Dontae Johnson, Cornerback
It does not appear Johnson missed a single game due to injury during his college career. He played safety and cornerback, but for now it appears he will compete for one of the corner roles. He stands 6'2, but weighed in at 200 pounds at the Combine. That's not tiny by any stretch, but he could use some bulk for his frame. Particularly given how big and physical the wide receivers can get in the NFL.
Aaron Lynch, Outside Linebacker
The 49ers took a flier on Lynch, who saw his draft stock fluctuate due to attitude concerns. Following the draft, South Florida's strength coach called out the 49ers for drafting Lynch, questioning Lynch's integrity and character. Our USF blog was less than thrilled with Lynch's time on the field in his one year with the Bulls, but they also recognized that he had game-changing talent.
From a health perspective, the only notable injury was an ankle sprain in 2011, but he returned to the game. Other than that, the big "health" question has been his weight. After a great 2011 season at Notre Dame, Lynch decided to transfer to South Florida. At Notre Dame, he was up near 270 pounds, but at USF he was down into the 240s. Lynch said he lost weight due to an Adderall prescription. He weighted in at 249 pounds at the Combine, but it seems like he could add some serious bulk to his frame.
The 49ers OLBs around up in the 260 range, and I have to think Lynch can get back up there with relative ease in an NFL training program. I have seen some mention of him potentially being able to work with 280+ pounds on his frame. I don't think the 49ers necessarily need to get him up there, but his 6'5 frame would seem to have plenty of space for some NFL bulk.
Keith Reaser, Cornerback
Reaser was the second of the ACL all stars, having suffered a torn ACL in October 2013. That would seemingly have given him enough time to recover to contribute in 2014, but he had a complication in his recovery. He had the choice between a cadaver graft, or a graft from his own patellar tendon. He chose the cadaver graft, and during the Combine medical process, it was revealed that his body was rejecting the cadaver graft. He visited with Dr. James Andrews, and had a second ACL surgery, this time using a graft from his own patellar tendon. You can read details on his choice and the timeline HERE.
There is obvious benefits from using a cadaver graft, mainly avoiding a second surgery site. However, for young, active patients, the failure rate of a cadaver graft is high. A little over 20% of that ACL reconstructions that use cadaver tissue fail in patients younger than 40. For Reaser, his first surgery was deemed a failure, because he was required to have a second surgery. Yet, his second ACL surgery appears to be going better.
Reaser was looking good when he was preparing for the Combine, but the second surgery obviously pushed back that recovery timeline. He will enter the season on the NFI list, and much like Brandon Thomas, he'll spend the entire season on the sideline. Barring any additional complications, he should be back and ready for next year's offseason workout program. Of course, as his recovery showed, every ACL injury is different, so we'll have to wait and see what the coming months bring in his rehab process.
Kaleb Ramsey, Defensive End
Ramsey is a talented defensive end, but his biggest flaw is his inability to stay healthy. Here is a rundown of the various injuries he has suffered during his college career (between ESPN, NFL.com, SFGate articles):
2009: Missed 5 games with sprained ankle
2010: Concussion vs. Weber State (no missed games, I think); Hip injury (missed Virginia game)
2011: Missed spring practice recovering from left shoulder (labrum) surgery; suffered foot injury in season opener, played briefly three weeks later, missed rest of season with plantar fasciitis (granted medical redshirt)
2012: Started first 2 games before missing rest of season with left calf tear
2013: Missed 3 games with hamstring injury
Combine: Did not participate in drills because of pulled calf muscle
Trent Baalke talked about how they graded Ramsey three straight years, and it just kept going on and on because he could not remain healthy. Given how his career has gone, odds would seem to indicate he will not remain healthy. The 49ers are deep enough along the defensive line that they could afford to take a late round flier on a talent like Ramsey.
His development time is a little bit different than most rookies. He turned 25 last month, making him older than over half the 49ers current roster. If he looks solid in training camp, I could see them giving him a year on the practice squad. Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are not going to be around forever, so Ramsey could have a better shot at a roster spot in 2015. And if he gets hurt in training camp, the 49ers can always place him on injured reserve.
Trey Millard, Fullback
Millard is the third of the 49ers ACL all stars, and is the most likely to see action in 2014. Millard suffered his torn ACL on October 26, 2013, and there have been no indications of any problems in his recovery. At minicamp, he did not participate in team drills, instead working on a separate field with other rehabbing players.
At this point, the odds are pretty good that he opens training camp on the NFI list. He could be the one guy who comes off the list later in the season, but the 49ers are not in a position right now where that is necessary. That could very well change. For now the 49ers are set with Bruce Miller at fullback, but Millard provides intriguing insurance. He could work in as a fullback, or in more of an H-back role. And of course, he'll be expected to make contributions on special teams. He's a guy who will make his mark due to versatility more than anything else.