SANTA CLARA — Deebo Samuel has a chance to play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, but No. 3 receiver and popular third-down target Jauan Jennings will likely be a spectator.
Samuel didn’t practice all week with injuries to his knee and rib, with the knee being more problematic. He and Jennings worked off to the side during the media window in practice Friday, and Samuel seemed guardedly optimistic afterward.
On the official injury report, Samuel was listed as questionable and Jennings was doubtful. Also listed as questionable were linebackers Dre Greenlaw (ankle) and Demetrius Flanigan-Fowles (ankle).
Running back Elijah Mitchell was added to the injury report with a knee injury, as coach Kyle Shanahan said he was “tripped up” during Thursday’s practice.
Samuel traced the injury to catching a 30-yard screen pass on third-and-15 in the second quarter against the Giants in last week’s Thursday night game. Samuel finished the game, catching six passes for 129 yards and not realizing until Friday there was a problem.
“I landed right on it, but at the time I wasn’t feeling how bad it was,” Samuel said. “But it did get inflamed and it was pretty sore.”
Jennings has four catches for 82 yards and three first downs in three games.
Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk is good to go after a shoulder injury kept him out of the Giants game, and Ronnie Bell and Ray-Ray McCloud are also in the mix. If the 49ers need to call up one or two wide receivers from the practice squad, Shanahan said Chris Conley and Willie Snead IV were candidates for promotion.
Bell, a seventh-round draft pick out of Michigan, caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Brock Purdy against the Giants to put the 49ers up 10-3 in the second quarter.
“He’s been great these first three weeks,” Shanahan said. “Played really well without the ball and when he’s gotten opportunities he’s done exactly what we expected him to do. It’s better in practice every day and we’re excited with him so far.”
During his weekly appearance on KNBR, general manager John Lynch talked Friday about how Bell has played his way onto the field both as a receiver and on special teams.
“He takes on every challenge and now he’s one of our best blockers out there on the perimeter,” Lynch said. “He’s earned every opportunity he’s gotten. Kyle makes rookies earn those. He’s not just going to give it to them, especially with the talent in our group. He keeps passing every test. He plays with a passion that we like our guys to have.”
Bell’s blocking, according to Samuel, has come a long way.
“It was crazy. We used to pick on him a lot because he didn’t stick his head in there a good bit and so we came down hard on him as far as what it takes to play in this offense,” Samuel said. “He’s come a long way, seeing him put pads on people.”
Mitchell, who missed 21 games in his first two seasons with the 49ers with various injuries, made it through the first three games unscathed before Thursday’s practice injury.
After not getting a snap in the Week 2 win over the Rams, Mitchell spelled Christian McCaffrey against the Giants and gained 42 yards on 11 carries. He has 16 carries this season for 52 yards.
If Mitchell is inactive, the 49ers would likely activate Ty Davis-Price, who has been inactive the first three games and is behind running back and core special teams player Jordan Mason on the depth chart.
Brock Purdy is picked by Amik Robertson pic.twitter.com/AJDFDrL0gj
— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) January 1, 2023
The Purdy streak
It has been 190 passes since Brock Purdy threw his last interception. It came with 2:33 left in the third quarter on New Year’s Day in Las Vegas, with Purdy underthrowing George Kittle on a reverse rollout to his left and Amik Robertson coming away with the pick.
Since that play, Purdy finished out 8-of-16 for 161 yards against the Raiders, was 15-of-20 for 178 yards and three touchdowns against Arizona, was 41-of-63 for 569 yards and three touchdowns in the postseason and so far this season is 61-of-91 for 736 yards and four touchdowns — all with no interceptions.
Since Robertson’s interception, Purdy is 125-for-190 with 1,644 yards, 10 touchdowns and a passer rating of 110.5.
There have been some close calls, the most recent being a pass that the Giants’ Adoree’ Jackson had in his sights, only to have Kittle break it up as if he was a defensive back.
“As a team really it’s all about the ball,” Purdy said. “Obviously the turnover battle is huge for us. We’ve got a good defense, we’ve got a great offense and it’s how we can eliminate the errors and be smart with the ball, even if that means punting and letting our defense do their thing.”
Purdy said he tries not to get caught up in statistical minutiae such as yards per attempt or how far the ball is traveling in the air before reaching its target.
“All that other stuff, we just try and game plan and get first downs and that stuff just sort of comes along with it,” Purdy said.
Arizona coach Jonathan Gannon told reporters the lack of interceptions has been a collaborative effort between Shanahan and Purdy.
“You can tell Kyle Shanahan knows how to coach the quarterback,” Gannon said. “He doesn’t put the ball at harm’s risk. He knows the stresses of the coverages and that’s where he delivers the ball. Then with Brock, he plays the game extremely fast so he’s not late trying to throw it through windows. He throws it through the correct window. The ball comes out on time.”
Trent Williams fined
Left tackle Trent Williams said the NFL fined him $11,000 for his punch against Giants defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson just before halftime.
It was a retaliatory strike by Williams after Robinson hit him in the neck, which likely explains why officials did not eject Williams for the ensuing punch to Robinson’s facemask. The NFL publicly reveals each week’s fines every Saturday.
Putting in the work
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Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks understood the level of talent when he arrived as the replacement for DeMeco Ryans. What he’s learned since then is the ability is matched by commitment.
“I’ve never been around an elite group like this before. And it’s not just so much the talent, it’s about how we work,” Wilks said. “These guys grind every day, walkthrough, they’re locked in, they’re focused. Everything is about details, that’s the difference at this level. I’ve been doing it for a long time. There’s a lot of talent around the league, but nobody is a stickler to the details as we are here.”