The San Francisco 49ers sit at 3-2 on the season, and while their play has not been spectacular, they have done enough to stay in the thick of the NFC West race. Although much can change in the coming weeks, the 49ers are also in a position to start welcoming in some reinforcements on both sides of the ball. The 49ers have made extensive use of the PUP and NFI lists, and we are fast approaching the potential return of some of these players.
The PUP and NFI rules allow a team to keep players under their control without giving up a precious spot on the 53-man roster. In exchange for this roster flexibility, the player cannot practice with the team through the first six weeks of the season.
Earlier this summer, socalisteph broke down the specifics of each timeline. On both lists, a player can rehab but not practice with the team through Week 6. After that, the player has a five week window in which to return to practice. If the player returns to practice during this window, he then has three weeks to be activated back to the 53-man roster. If he does not return to practice within that first five week window, he is deactivated the rest of the season. If he does not return to the 53-man roster at the end of that second 3-week window, he again must be deactivated for the rest of the season.
The 49ers injury lists break down as follows:
PUP: ILB NaVorro Bowman, TE Garrett Celek, DT Kaleb Ramsey
NFI: RB Marcus Lattimore, FB Trey Millard, CB Keith Reaser, OL Brandon Thomas
When next week rolls around, i don't expect many of these players to immediately start practicing. Thomas and Reaser seem unlikely to be activated at all this season. They might be brought back to practice in that first window, but then they will be deactivated after that. The same could hold true for Ramsey, and maybe Millard.
The big questions surround Bowman, Celek and Lattimore. I don't expect Bowman back in game action until late November at the earliest. There has been no indication his rehab has slowed, but with Michael Wilhoite playing some very solid football, there is no need to rush Bowman, even a little bit. Instead the 49ers can take a conservative approach. I do think we see Bowman on the field this year, but late November or early December could be more likely than anything sooner.
Marcus Lattimore is of course the big early question for fans. He was getting work in the offseason workout program, but then was placed on the NFI list to start training camp. All indications are that he has looked solid in his rehab work, but we have no idea how quickly the 49ers will get him into practice and potentially on to the 53-man roster. The 49ers are currently playing with two running backs, Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde. The duo seems to be working out just fine, so there probably is not a huge sense of urgency with Lattimore.
Celek went on the PUP list with a disc issue in his back. There has not been a single word on him since Jim Harbaugh first mentioned the back issue early in camp. Derek Carrier has been handling the team's No. 3 tight end duties, and has even gotten into the starting lineup due to injuries to Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald. I honestly don't know what the plan is when Celek is ready to return. I don't see the 49ers carrying four tight ends, but we also don't know how the team feels about Carrier in comparison to Celek. Carrier has gotten plenty of opportunities, but that is likely due in at least small part to necessity.
The 49ers also have defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey on injured reserve with the return designation. The 49ers gave Dorsey the designation at the start of the season. He could technically return this month, but his biceps injury is likely to keep him out into November, and potentially some of December.