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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

49ers’ plans for returner, cornerback spots a work in progress, says Kyle Shanahan

Aug 19, 2023 at 9:58 PM--

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The San Francisco 49ers' special teams returner competition just got more interesting. No doubt more interesting than head coach Kyle Shanahan would prefer. The initial plan was to have wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud return punts this season. However, McCloud suffered a broken wrist during training camp, and his availability for the beginning of the regular season is uncertain.

Wide receiver Danny Gray, who many believe might be the 49ers' fastest player, started Saturday night's preseason game against the Denver Broncos as the returner. Later, he was replaced by wide receiver Ronnie Bell, and it had nothing to do with breaking up the reps between players.

In his post-game press conference, Shanahan revealed that Gray exited the game with a "possible collarbone" injury. It was severe enough that the team performed X-rays on the receiver to try to determine the extent of the injury.

Shanahan will likely have an injury update soon.

Whether or not Gray (or McCloud) can return, the team is not ruling out bringing in outside help.

"There's still lots of people around the league, so you always look into all that," Shanahan said. "I mean, people on this roster are competing to try to get that job since Ray-Ray's injury gave them an opportunity, but they're also competing with everyone else in this league. You see what's available, you compare it to what we have, and you try to have the best 53 for Sunday (September 10) versus the Steelers."

Another job with competition is the starting cornerback spot opposite Charvarius Ward. Ambry Thomas got the start outside against the Broncos, with Deommodore Lenoir in the nickel spot, which indicates that Thomas might be very much in consideration for the job.

The nickel cornerback spot is yet another job that hasn't been locked down. The 49ers signed Isaiah Oliver this offseason, with many assuming the job would be his to lose. However, the team recently stated that nothing is guaranteed.

"Yeah, we're looking at all of it," Shanahan shared after Saturday's 21-20 win. "I mean, we think we have some decent options, but we're trying to figure out our best three."

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