Nick WaggonerESPN Editor5 minute read
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The San Francisco 49ers will welcome back at least one of their two injured stars against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
Niners receiver Deebo Samuel, who missed most of the last three games with a broken shoulder, practiced in full every day this week and has no injury designation for Sunday.
And while Samuel returns, the Niners hope left tackle Trent Williams (right ankle) will also be back, although his situation is much more precarious. Williams returned to practice Thursday and Friday on a limited basis and is listed as questionable for Sunday.
“I think it’s definitely questionable to play,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “If there’s no tomorrow, we’ll wait until game time. Today was half-speed (and he) couldn’t do much yesterday and we want to know how he feels it all the way.”
Samuel’s return is much-needed for an offense that averaged more than 30 points per game over the first five weeks (all wins) but has dropped to 17 points per game over the last three (all losses). ).
On the 56% of offensive snaps the Niners played with Samuel on the field, they averaged 6.9 yards per play, with quarterback Brock Purdy throwing eight touchdowns and no interceptions for a QBR of 82. Without Samuel, these numbers drop to 5.4. yards per play, 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions for a QBR of 59.
“I think he complements everyone,” running back Christian McCaffrey said. “Just having him on the floor, he’s such a threat every time he has the ball. He makes a play that doesn’t seem to work. Just having that confidence that he’s there- low means a lot to all of us.”
For his part, Samuel said he felt fresh and could sense a boost of energy for the whole team during the week of training after the bye. He said Thursday that while it was tough to miss the final three games, he wouldn’t try to do too much when he returns.
“Anytime you’re not in the game, it’s a little tough, but I’ve been there before,” Samuel said. “It’s just another game, I’m not trying not to do anything crazy, I just go out there and do what I do.”
Williams’ status remains more obscure. He initially suffered a sprained ankle early in the Week 6 loss to the Cleveland Browns, but finished that game. He hasn’t played since, however, and Shanahan acknowledged Wednesday that while Williams doesn’t have a serious sprain, he has more than just a mild sprain due to previous ankle injuries.
Jaylon Moore has started the last two games in place of Williams and would do so again on Sunday if Williams doesn’t show continued improvement after a few light practices and a long flight to Jacksonville.
Like Samuel, Williams’ return would be a boon for the offense, particularly in the rush, where the Niners have struggled to average 95.3 yards over the last three games (19th in the NFL) after posted 156.4 rushing yards per game in the first five weeks (3rd).
There has been a noticeable decline in San Francisco’s ability to run left without Williams. The Niners have averaged just 3.9 yards per carry (24th) over the past three games after ranking third in the league with 6.4 yards per attempt through the first five weeks.
Suffice it to say, the 5-3 Niners would be more than happy to welcome back Williams and Samuel as they try to end their three-game losing skid.
“Obviously you put the ball in Deebo’s hands and he can do some crazy things and help our team a lot,” Purdy said. “Having Deebo back is going to be huge. Trent too, it’s going to be great to have him with his experience as a leader and kind of helping with everything: running the game, passing the game, Trent is the best of the best .So to have two of those guys back, give a spark and bring that energy to our offense, it’s huge.”
Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave is also listed as questionable after his knee “acted up” in practice Thursday, according to Shanahan. Guard Aaron Banks (toe) and defensive end Drake Jackson (knee) are out.
For the Jaguars, receiver Zay Jones will miss his fourth consecutive game due to a right knee injury. Head coach Doug Pederson said Friday morning that it would be difficult for Jones to play against the 49ers, and the team ruled him out in the afternoon.
Jones initially injured his right knee in the Week 2 loss to Kansas City. He missed the next two games and returned against Buffalo on October 8, but left that game after re-injuring his knee and has not played since.
ESPN’s Michael DiRocco contributed to this report.