The 49ers, as they were for much of the season a year ago, will be without Elijah Mitchell again after a Week 1 knee injury against the Chicago Bears.
Mitchell will be placed on injured reserve, coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday. This means he will miss at least four games, but it will probably be longer.
“He won’t need surgery, but eventually he will go into IR,” Shanahan said in a conference call with local media. “We estimate around two months or eight weeks, more or less. I hope everything goes well and it’s sooner, but you never know with these things. That’s what we guess.
The 49ers have seven games until their scheduled bye on Nov. 6, with the possibility of Mitchell returning on Nov. 13 against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Mitchell was running hard, gaining 41 yards on six carries before he started in Sunday’s 19-10 loss to the Chicago Bears. He was injured on an 11-yard run by the Chicago 26 at the 11-yard line, but was hit in the knee with his leg planted by safety Eddie Jackson. He stayed for one more game and gained a yard, but then did not return.
Mitchell’s normally upbeat mood was depressed Monday, according to Shanahan.
“He was pretty depressed, and for obvious reasons, we’re for him,” Shanahan said of Mitchell’s MCL sprain diagnosis. “Elijah went through a lot in the last year… I thought he looked really good before he got hurt. I tried to tell him to keep his head up. Anyone who would have been caught in this situation would have been hurt by the way his foot was planted in the ground and the guy had hit his knee, we were very lucky it wasn’t worse.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk said he tried to cheer Mitchell up.
“I had my arm around Elijah here for a little while,” Juszczyk said on a conference call. “It really stinks for him personally and for us as a team. We think he’s one of the best defenders in this league and I think whenever he gets a chance to be on the pitch , he shows it. He hates being hurt, he doesn’t want to be that guy, but I think this one was out of his hands.
A 2021 sixth-round pick at Louisiana, Mitchell set a 49ers rookie record with 963 yards despite missing six games with knee, shoulder and concussion issues.
Other active running backs against the Bears were Jeff Wilson Jr. (nine carries for 22 yards) and undrafted rookie free agent Jordan Mason, who did not play on offense. Also on the list is third-round pick Ty Davis-Price of LSU, who was inactive.
The 49ers’ main rushers were quarterback Trey Lance (13 carries, 54 yards) and wide receiver Deebo Samuel (8 carries, 52 yards) who returned to his “wideback” role he assumed a year ago. due to injuries in the backfield.
“We’ve always been comfortable with Jeff just because of his experience and what he’s done here,” Shanahan said. “The other two guys, they were on our team for a reason. They are two talented players who I think can help us manage the ball. But they have to grow fast.
While increasing Samuel’s workload in the backfield is a possibility, it’s likely the 49ers would like to expose Lance to fewer hits if possible. Regardless, Shanahan emphasized the need for production from running backs to take over in Mitchell’s absence.
The 49ers have been flexible on running backs in Shanahan’s first five seasons as coach, with five different players leading the club in rushing — Carlos Hyde in 2017 (938 yards), Matt Brieda in 2018 (814 yards), Raheem Mostert in 2019 (772 yards), Wilson in 2020 (600 yards) and Mitchell last season.
“That’s why we keep writing one every year,” Shanahan said. “I think the first year with Carlos Hyde was the only year we didn’t lose our starting running back. That’s something that happened in the past and that’s why you can never too much. Sometimes it feels like we have a lot and pretty soon it feels like we don’t. Hopefully we can hold the fort for a bit and when Elijah comes back, he will return to a better team and hopes to stick around.
The only other injury to come out of that game was a sprained ankle to Javon Kinlaw, which Shanahan says won’t be a problem this week.
One thing that didn’t go badly against the Bears was a big concern. In the middle of the 49ers offensive line, rookie right guard Spencer Burford, veteran center Jake Brendel and rookie left guard Aaron Banks acquitted themselves well on film.
“I think they did a really good job,” Shanahan said. “I thought they were good for pass protection. It was a real positive game for these three. They weren’t perfect by any means, but they did a pretty good job for the first time.
Sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanga played all 58 snaps and was a star of the TV show with one interception and multiple tackles. Shanahan appeared equally impressed with Tashaun Gipson Sr., an activated practice squad veteran who played all but one snap. Gipson will likely be added to the 53-man roster this week with Jimmie Ward three games away from coming off injured reserve with a hamstring strain.
Shanahan thought Hufanga was good watching the match live and felt even better about his game after watching the tape. Gipson also performed well.
“I thought Gipson had a huge challenge stepping in and playing for Jimmie Ward,” Shanahan said. “He looked good in training all week. It was great to bring him out. You can tell he’s a vet who can recognize offensive stratagems and do certain things.
WHAT’S NEW WITH KITTLE?
Tight end George Kittle was listed as questionable and tried to put the best face on his availability on Friday, but it appears the 49ers believed otherwise.
“He thought he was (ready). That’s why he made the trip,” Shanahan said. “But we decided quite early on Saturday night, talking to the doctors (that he wouldn’t play).
Kittle’s possibility against Seattle will be determined during the week.
“Hopefully he’s ready to go on Wednesday, but we’re not sure yet,” Shanahan said.
JIMMY G AND BIG D
In light of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott’s thumb injury that could sideline him for half the season, Shanahan was asked if that changes Jimmy Garoppolo’s availability for a potential trade with Dallas. .
“Like all players, we will listen to anyone on anything. That never changes for any player. We will always listen to anyone,” Shanahan said.
Garoppolo has restructured his contract to stay with the 49ers as Lance’s replacement, but he still has the ability to veto any trade.