Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports


49ers Notebook: What happens when Jimmie Ward returns?; 49ers on Tua; Bobby T welcomed back; No ‘body bag’ talk from George Kittle this week

Sep 30, 2022 at 8:15 PM--


There was plenty to talk about around 49ers facilities Friday afternoon, ranging from Monday night's home game against the Los Angeles Rams to what happened Thursday night with Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovaiola.

Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, run game coordinator/offensive line coach Chris Foerster, tight end George Kittle, and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo were among those to speak to reporters on Friday. We have a rundown of their thoughts on the aforementioned subjects, as well as their reactions to the return of running backs coach Bobby Turner, who came back to the team after undergoing knee surgery. Let's get into that and more in this version of 49ers Notebook.

A good problem


The 49ers took an unwanted hit to their secondary towards the end of the August when safety Jimmie Ward went on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. But the safeties have shined in their absence due to the fine play of second-year strong safety Talanoa Hufanga and Ward's replacement, veteran Tashaun Gipson.

Ward will return sooner or later, which means the 49ers will need to decide what to do with Gipson. Do they slide Ward back into place? Or will they have other plans?

"Whenever Jimmie gets back, we'll be happy to have Jimmie and whenever you can say we're getting a player like Jimmie Ward back, that's a great problem to have," Ryans said Thursday. "So we'll figure that out once we cross that bridge, but I can't say enough about Gipson and Talanoa and what they've done back there and the instant chemistry that they've built in such a short time, you don't see that happen much. But I think with Gipson being a veteran and Huf just soaking in everything all the knowledge that Gip has to offer him, it's been cool to see."

Former 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman shared his thoughts on the issue via Twitter on Wednesday.

"When he comes back Jimmie Ward may bump down to nickel when they run it and stay FS in base if they like what they see from Gipson," Sherman wrote.

Kinder, gentler George


Remember when George Kittle called the 49ers-Rams showdown in Week 18 of the 2022 season a "body bag game"? The Rams didn't like that comment and let Kittle know it, but the 49ers went out and won 27-24 in overtime anyway, securing a trip to the postseason.

The Rams and 49ers will meet for the first time this season at Levi's Stadium Monday night and the first time since the Rams knocked off the 49ers in the NFC Championship game before eventually going on to win the Super Bowl. There will certainly be a number of fired-up players on Monday night, with Kittle being one of them, but he didn't give the Rams any bulletin board material on Friday.

"I respect all those players and I respect everybody in the league," Kittle said. "Is it a rivalry? Yes. I'm going to do my best to not be super-friendly to them on Monday night, which I know they won't be with me either. But I love competing against them because whenever we play each other, they're great football games. They're violent, they're physical. You're in each other's face, and that's what football's supposed to be about. So I'm looking forward to it."

Kittle said he didn't hear much coming from the Rams after they won the Super Bowl, but he did attend a certain special event with a Rams player over the offseason.

"I went to Wrestlemania with (linebacker) Leonard Floyd," Kittle said. "It was awesome. I was very jealous -- he had a championship belt over his shoulder. I tried to steal it from him. It didn't work out too well. He's very tall, actually."

Talking Tua


Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovaiola was the talk of the NFL Friday, but not for positive reasons.

Tagovaiola took a sack in the Dolphins' loss to the Bengals Thursday night that resulted in him getting slammed to the turf and being carted off the field due to a concussion. Tagovaiola was visibly dazed after the hit, making for a troubling scene.

The Dolphins were under fire on Friday due to the fact Tagovaiola played against the Bengals even though exited their win over the Buffalo Bills just four days prior after hitting his head on the turf and stumbling on the field. Tagovaiola was originally listed as questionable to return against the Bills due to a head injury and was evaluated for a concussion, but that diagnosis was changed to a back injury. The Dolphins have maintained that the two injuries are unrelated and that Tagovaiola cleared all checks before being given the green light to play against the Bengals.

49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was asked about Tagovaiola and said he has never been evaluated for a concussion but trusts the checks that have been put in place.

"I didn't see it actually," Garoppolo said. "I saw a clip of it. I think it was earlier today, but yeah, scary situation. You always just hope the best for a guy like that. We've all been in those situations, but I don't know. I think with the protocol, you just have to trust the process. Trust that everyone's doing their job the correct way and let things fall as they may."

Kittle had a more interesting take on the subject, saying Tagovaiola was going to try to play regardless of his condition and that maybe teams need to step in to avoid that when they have to.

"As an NFL player, it's very hard to take yourself off the field, especially in the position he's in," Kittle said. "He's the starting quarterback of the Dolphins. They're 3-0. he's going to try his best to be out there. Sometimes people have to save you from yourself. That's just an issue of a football player. It sucks to see that really. It's just kind of what you sign up for when you play football. So that sucks. Do I think they have our best interests in mind? I think the protocols even since I've been a rookie have gotten way stricter, have gotten a lot better."

Kittle added, "I don't know what's happening in the Dolphins' building. I don't know what they talked about last week at halftime that allowed Tua to play in the second half. If he thinks he's alright, I'm going to trust the guy's instinct. But like I said, at the end of the day, sometimes the team has to kind of protect you from yourself."

* Kittle likes the running game, even without McDaniel: Before taking criticism for what happened with Tagovaiola, Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel had been receiving widespread praise around the NFL for leading his team to an unexpected 3-0 start. The 49ers, meanwhile, struggled to get much of anything going offensively outside of one drive in their 11-10 loss to the Denver Broncos Sunday night, leading to some talk about how much they miss McDaniel, who had been an assistant with the team for five seasons and was noted as one of the biggest brains behind their running game.

Kittle told reporters Friday that he's a big fan of McDaniel but likes what his current coaches have done with the run game. It's just a matter of the offense executing and staying on the field on third downs, which they didn't do against the Broncos.

"I love Mike," Kittle said. "Mike's fantastic, sitting in his office, talking about the run game, and talking to someone as passionate about the run game as he is, it was awesome. I loved having Mike for the last five years. Is he really good at what he did? Yes, that's why he got hired to be a head coach. The great news is Kyle Shanahan's right across that hall and he's pretty good at what he does. Along with him and Coach Foerster and tight ends coach Brian Fleury, they've done a fantastic job I think of putting these game plans together for us. While we didn't have a lot of success last week and we only had 19 runs, it's hard to run the ball when you don't convert third downs. We convert four of those third downs and our drives are ten plays instead of four plays, we probably have 30 runs so then it looks a lot better, but we didn't convert on third down. I like our run game plan. I liked it last week. I like it this week. We just have to stay on the field so we can actually call those plays."

Welcome Back Coach Turner


Running backs coach Bobby Turner returned to team facilities Friday, much earlier than originally expected after it was thought he'd be out until next year after undergoing surgery. Turner is a favorite of 49ers players and staff, so he was not surprisingly welcomed back with open arms.

"Oh, it's great to see Bobby," Foerster said. "He swung by the hotel in Denver. We got to see him there. It was nice to see him. And I had no idea he was coming back, so it was nice to see him."

Kittle spoke about what Turner's presence means in the locker room.

"It's wonderful to have him back," Kittle said. "He's a presence that everybody in the building respects. He has a voice that when you hear him everybody listens. And he just has a different perspective on it than anybody else. He's been doing it for so long. The way that he cares for his players and the way he cares for football and the passion he has behind everything that he does every single day, honestly it just kind of warms your heart every single day. It doesn't matter what's going on, you're in a better mood every time you see him. It's also awesome he expects greatness from you every single day so you have to show up because you don't want to disappoint Bobby T."

What kind of impact will Turner have from here? That remains to be seen, but it certainly doesn't hurt that he's back with the team.

"Oh, it always helps," Foerster said. "I mean, any voice in the building. I was here in 2019 as a consultant and really just had a back office. I wasn't even on the field and was able to just contribute here and there. It's another set of eyes that has familiarity with the system, familiar with Kyle, the players to a degree. And it's always helpful for that reason."

Big shoes to fill


The 49ers will be turning to Colton McKivitz to fill in for left tackle Trent Williams, who will miss some time with a high ankle sprain.

McKivitz won't be able to duplicate what the 49ers get from Williams, who is the best left tackle in the NFL. But Foerster is optimistic when it comes to McKivitz due to how he responded to adversity in the past and how he played when called upon to fill in for Williams in the Week 18 win over the Rams in 2021.

"There's two things about Colton that I want to say that really impressed me," Foerster said. "The first one is that after last training camp a year ago, we released him and then signed him back to our practice squad and I think that really put a sense of urgency in Colton that I'd never seen in him before. An urgency to really improve, take every day seriously, really take the reps at it. At college, it's sometimes hard for the college kids to grow up and to really feel the urgency of, oh my gosh, my lifetime dream is getting ready to end his urgency in the way he played throughout the year, prepared him for when we needed him at the end of last season where he played really well. That really showed me the kind of guy he has in character, that was step one.

"Step two was when he played in that last game of the season, the 17th game against the Rams, he got beat for a sack with two minutes left in the game. [Buffalo Bills OLB] Von Miller sacked him and that it should have ended. If they would've gotten a first down in the four-minute drive, it would've ended the season for us and it didn't. We punted the ball, our defense stopped, we got the ball back and then we proceeded to have, I think it was like 14 more plays to tie it in regulation and then in overtime and Colton, that was the last time anybody got near the quarterback on him. So, it's not easy in the game of that magnitude to step in, make your block, get beat at the most critical time of the game – we're getting ready to go on a two-minute drive and we get a sack and we have to punt with 2:02 left or whatever the time on the clock was. So those two things with Colton, you feel really good about and he continues to be very professional, hardworking, does all the right things. He's the right kind of guy and has really worked hard for us and did a great job this camp. It's just hard to replace Trent and that's going to be his charge and he'll have to come in and do the best he can."

How will McKivitz fare this time? Needless to say, he'll be a player to keep a close eye on Monday night.



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