The biggest issue for 2018 were injuries. Lots and lots of injuries for the San Francisco 49ers. People think we’re joking when we say they were playing backups of backups, but that’s no over exaggeration. The team was decimated with injuries.
In their end of season press conference, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch said they are going to take a long, hard look at the injuries in 2018 and see if there’s anything they can do to alleviate concerns going into 2019.
Shanahan: “It’s been too big of a deal for two years. Injuries are pretty random, but it’s also affected us huge. So, that’s something that we definitely have to sit back and really look at it from all angles and put a lot of time into. Just try to find a better perspective at it.”
Lynch: “There’s an old adage in football, I don’t know if it’s exclusive to football, but your best ability is availability. We haven’t had a lot of guys available and that’s something we’re looking into hard. It’s been ongoing. We’ll continue to do that because it’s something that needs to change and I don’t think anyone’s to blame. We have been studying it. We’ll continue to, and try to get a handle on that.”
The good news is (well, if you want to call it that) is that these injuries allowed the 49ers coaching staff to get a long hard look at their practice squad players. All 10 of them. Shanahan noted that all 10 of the original practice squad players saw time on game day whether it’s with the 49ers or elsewhere:
“I think it says a lot, too, that all 10 of our practice squad guys this year played on the active roster this year, nine for our team and one for another team. That’s not something that you want to happen as a coach. That usually means that you have some injuries and stuff. But, those nine guys who played on our team got their opportunity because of injuries. I think they got better every week they played. They showed that they can be NFL players. I thought we did a little bit of that last year, not necessarily with all practice squad players, but with a lot of young players. I thought our guys got better our first year here playing young guys, not always by choice at the beginning, but they get their opportunities eventually and we got better. This year it was a whole different group of guys with nine of those being practice squad guys. That’s two years in a row of young guys getting opportunities because of injuries that showed they can play in this league. Now you’ve got two years of young guys that are going into an offseason to compete with each other. We plan on bringing in some veterans. We plan on drafting a whole new group of young guys. That now puts three years together of getting better and I expect that to show with our record.”
Some of these players have shown a reason to be kept around to develop further. Some of them have shown it’s best to move on. A great example of a player to keep around will be quarterback Nick Mullens who started for the second half of the season. Mullens had a pedestrian final game, but his 2277 yards and 64.2 completion percentage shows he can play in the NFL.
The 49ers got their looks. And as Shanahan says, they’ll put together another squad next year. As nice as it was to see these players get their time on game day, we can all hope a plethora of injuries doesn’t lead to this again.