In the win, the 49ers returned to near-100% health, bringing back Trent Williams and Deebo Samuel from Injured Reserve (IR), but did miss one key player: left guard Aaron Banks, who will miss a few weeks with turf toe.
With the injury, left guard Jon Feliciano stepped into the starting lineup, playing pretty well in the victory, leaving questions as to whether he could potentially join the starting lineup on a more permanent basis.
Well, the 49ers have given the idea thought.
Ahead of the game, head coach Kyle Shanahan alluded to his comfortability with starting Feliciano, revealing that the 49ers were planning to insert him into the lineup more due to his practice habits, even without the Banks injury.
“Yeah, [OL Jon Feliciano] got in a number of weeks ago, I want to say versus the Giants,” Shanahan said before Sunday’s game. “He wasn’t able to practice that whole week and got cleared the day before the game and came in and did a real good job in that game and hasn’t been in much since then.”
“We were going to start playing him a little bit just to get him in there regardless because of how consistent he has been. Then this happened with Banks, so now he’s got his opportunity, but we’ve been real happy with Jon.”
Following the game, Shanahan confirmed the idea again, sharing that the team had conversations about playing him at right guard, which became irrelevant once Banks’s injury opened up a starting spot.
“It had been discussed,” Shanahan said about a rotation between Feliciano and Spencer Burford. “Nothing against Spencer, but I wanted to make sure that Jon knew that we were aware of how well we thought he had been doing. So that was something I just had mentioned to him and was planning on doing it.
Hadn’t thought how we would do it yet. I just thought he had earned to be out there a little bit and unfortunately Aaron got hurt, but we never looked into anymore after that because we knew he was going to be up this week and this week going forward.”
Now, Banks’s injury will likely keep the 49ers away from making that key decision for a few weeks, but it’s no secret that Burford hasn’t been great in Year 2, with many hoping for him to take the next step.
He’s allowed seven penalties on the year, the second-most among guards, while him and Colton McKivitz have allowed 45 percent of the team’s pressures this season.
Once Banks returns, there should be some serious conversations about keeping Feliciano in the starting lineup, or at least a consistent factor in the lineup, if he continues playing like he did on Sunday.
In addition to Feliciano, the 49ers made another move in their starting lineup, inserting Ambry Thomas on the outside in nickel situations once again, while placing Deommodore Lenoir on the inside.
Thomas hadn’t seen many defensive snaps since playing 12 against the Dallas Cowboys, as he had struggled early in certain games, leading to a few poor plays on his end.
But, on Sunday, Thomas allowed two catches for 13 yards on four targets, forced a key fumble on Christian Kirk in the red zone, and missed zero tackles.
The 49ers have waited for Thomas to fulfill those glimpses of potential that he showed in his rookie season, but inconsistencies have marred his career to this point.
Still, with San Francisco looking to make some schematic changes, which seemed to involve a higher amount of press-man coverage, the 49ers trusted Thomas once again, making the move from Isaiah Oliver, who hasn’t been great this season.
Not only does Thomas being on the outside help the 49ers if he can be consistent, but it also allows the team to move Deommodore Lenoir to the slot, where he can be a playmaker in multiple ways.
Now, the 49ers are positioning themselves for the stretch run of the season, which means they’ve got to find a way to put their best 11 players on the field.
With Feliciano and Thomas’s performances on Sunday, there’s a chance that those two belong among those Top-11 if they remain consistent, which will be integral to learn as the 49ers inch closer and closer to the playoffs.