Michael Zagaris / Contributor
SANTA CLARA — Last Friday, Kyle Shanahan said he would be “very surprised” if Richard Sherman played this week. Sherman is working his way back from a hamstring injury he suffered in practice Aug. 5. After participating in individual drills Sunday, he alternated reps with Jimmie Ward during Monday’s 11-on-11 drills — though it should be noted players weren’t sporting full pads.
Sherman’s best play of practice came late during a red-zone drill. Jimmy Garoppolo targeted Kendrick Bourne on a fade route, Sherman blanketed Bourne, and the ball sailed out of bounds.
It would be hard to imagine Sherman practicing fully when the 49ers head to Houston for what is likely to feature two physical joint practices Wednesday and Thursday. If he sits, his decision to practice Monday makes all the more sense, considering he has taken such minimal snaps since the start of camp — initially limited from a ruptured Achilles suffered last November.
“We’re still taking it very slowly with him,” Shanahan said after practice. “We’ll reassess that and how we feel when we go against another team.”
Shanahan adds familiar face
The news of the day, which Shanahan revealed midway through his post-practice press conference, is that the 49ers plan to sign six-year veteran running back Alfred Morris, pending a physical.
The 49ers lost their top two backs to injuries in the past four days. Jerick McKinnon suffered a calf strain during Sunday’s practice and will be sidelined for at least a week. Matt Breida separated his shoulder in Thursday’s preseason opener and is not expected to play until Week 1.
McKinnon and Breida are entrenched as the top two backs, but the No. 3 role is still being decided. That competition features Joe Williams, Raheem Mostert, Jeremy McNichols, undrafted rookie Jeff Wilson — and now Morris, who will get a legitimate chance.
“I do believe he has a chance to make the team here,” Shanahan said. “And that’s all Alfred wanted: a chance to compete.”
Morris, 29, enjoyed the most productive two seasons of his career in Washington with Shanahan as its offensive coordinator. Morris served as a backup in Dallas throughout the past two seasons and was not re-signed at the conclusion of last season. While his production has steadily declined with time, his 4.8 yards per carry average in 2017 is his highest total since his rookie year.
Shanahan doesn’t subscribe to popular beliefs of retaining goal-line backs and red-zone targets. He would rather out-scheme an opponent than simply rely on physical advantage. But there is no denying Morris, a hard-nosed, rugged runner, adds worth to a running back group defined by speed. And considering the precariousness of the No. 3 spot, acquiring a proven veteran who needs minimal time to relearn Shanahan’s system makes a lot of sense.
Joshua Garnett returns, other injury notes
Right guard Joshua Garnett participated in 11-on-11 drills Monday for the first time in nearly two weeks after suffering a knee injury in practice. He took snaps with the third-team.
Jonathan Cooper, who is also working his way back from a knee injury, worked with the second-team. Erik Magnuson replaced Mike Person, who had the day off, with first-team reps. Right guard is the last remaining unsolved starting spot, aside from punter.
In other injury news, 10 49ers players sat out Monday, including rookie defensive lineman Jullian Taylor, who came down with a stomach bug prior to practice. Ronald Blair got most of the snaps at the big end spot.
-Breida (separated shoulder), Arik Armstead (hamstring), and George Kittle (separated shoulder) are considered week to week. There is still no update on Armstead’s injury, though he was spotted doing endurance drills on the side during Monday’s session.
-McKinnon, K’Waun Williams (ankle), and Malcolm Smith (hamstring) will rest this week and progress back next week.
-Garry Gilliam (concussion), Solomon Thomas (concussion), and Cole Wick (knee) are considered day-to-day.
Jeremiah Attaochu, Brock Coyle, and Eli Harold’s status were listed as day-to-day via the pre-practice injury report, but all three participated Monday. It appeared Coyle may have re-aggravated his injury in coverage during 11-on-11s. He jogged off the field with a slight limp.
The 49ers had eluded the injury bug throughout the opening stretch of training camp, but Thursday’s preseason opener saw five players injured in the opening 15:07 and six total — any coach’s worst nightmare in an exhibition game. Fortunately for the 49ers, none of the recent injuries has regular season implications. That includes McKinnon, who suffered a calf strain in Sunday’s practice.
Trent Taylor is back
Trent Taylor’s recovery from offseason back surgery to remove bone spurs dragged out beyond OTAs and into training camp. Since returning to practice July 31, he has progressively shouldered a larger workload, though he did not play in last Thursday’s preseason opener.
If the past two practices are any indication, Taylor is fully healthy. He was the best receiver on the field during Monday’s session.
Jimmy Garoppolo hit Taylor on two completions near the sideline in quick succession. Fast forward to red-zone drills, and Garoppolo found Taylor, who curled in a tight pocket of the defense, for a touchdown.
Richie James stepped in during Taylor’s injury and has made himself a strong case for a spot on the 53-man roster. Last Thursday, James caught four passes for 46 yards and the game-winning touchdown. He caught three balls from three different quarterbacks, including San Francisco’s first completion of the game on third down.
Expect Taylor to make his 2018 preseason debut Saturday evening at Houston.
The 49ers concluded their 13th training camp session, and the last open to the public, Monday. They took off for Houston after practice. They will have Tuesday off, practice with the Texans Wednesday and Thursday, and use Friday as a walk-through day before playing their second 2018 preseason game at 5 p.m. Saturday.