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49ers mailbag: Should SF rest some starters? What are the latest injury updates? When will Arik Armstead return?

Marc Adams
Jan 3, 2024 at 9:56 AM

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As the San Francisco 49ers prepare to close out their 2023 regular season, much of the fanbase has already turned its attention to the postseason. And for good reason. The postseason, specifically the Super Bowl, is what it's all about. And considering it's been 29 years since the 49ers won their last Super Bowl, the fanbase is more than ready for another one.

But there are questions to be answered before the playoffs begin. Some of the questions are injury-related. Some of the questions are rest-related. Whatever the question, we are going to do our best to provide some of the answers. So let's jump into the 49ers Webzone Mailbag and see what's on your mind.

Should we rest our starters against the Rams, as we won the NFC West and have the #1 seed in the NFC? - Mike J.

Yes, I believe many of the starters should be rested on Sunday, and I believe Kyle Shanahan will take that approach—to an extent. He's already said you can't sit everyone, but I would think anyone who is dealing with an injury will not play in Week 18. The question is, will the starters suit up and play a possession or two, or will many of them not play at all?

Fred Warner sounds like he wants to play. And Deebo Samuel said he and the other starters will play. But what matters is what Shanahan says.

Here's what Shanahan said about this when asked on Monday:

"I think it can be tough, but it's not just playing, it's how much you practice and everything, too. You have to make sure that you prepare for games by practicing, and we have a game this week on Sunday, and when you give guys the game off, practice changes, too. And that can end up hurting guys a lot. You end up developing bad habits. I've seen it cost a lot of teams.

"Also it does give some guys a chance to get healthy, but when you sit people, other people have to double up and do a lot more because you only get two guys off the practice squad. You rest players, and that sometimes gets more players injured. So all that stuff you have to balance out, and there's not a clear-cut decision on anything. You have to look at each individual situation and play it out as the week goes."

We'll see what Shanahan decides.

What are your thoughts on the balancing act of resting starters for week 18 and at the same time to avoid complacency after bye week? - Brandon G.

It really is a decision that coaches wrestle with. Do you play your starters for a quarter to keep them sharp, and risk injuries? Or do you rest them, which keeps them safe, but could perhaps lead to a rusty team when they finally play in the postseason?

This is Shanahan's first time in this situation, so we don't have any precedent to go off. Shanahan said on Monday that he has not yet decided if Brock Purdy will play against the Rams on Sunday. He's no doubt still considering the rest of the team, as well.

For reference, here's what some other 49ers' coaches decided to do when their team had clinched the top seed before the final game of the season:

In 1987, Bill Walsh played his starters throughout the final game. That team lost in the Divisional Round. In 1989, George Seifert played his starters in the first half. That team won the Super Bowl. So there are two of examples of players playing and the results were different. That 1987 team should have never lost to the Minnesota Vikings. But they played horribly. Should they have played more in the final week?

Interestingly, Walsh played his starters all game in 1984. That was the 15-1 team that coasted through the postseason and beat the Miami Dolphins 38-16.

In 1994, Seifert played his starters into the second quarter. In 1997, Steve Mariucci played his starters for part of the first quarter. The 1994 team, of course, went on to win the Super Bowl, while the 1997 team lost in the NFC Championship Game.

So it appears that each coach does what he feels is best for his team within that season. Shanahan's team is very physical, and because of that, I think he'll sit some of his starters.

How much rest is too much rest?? - Drew P.

This is a great question. And I'm not sure anyone really knows the answer. Every team is different. Every player is different. I've seen teams get a lot of rest and perform well, as a result. And I've seen teams get a lot of rest and lose in the second round. I'm certain one week of rest will help the team immensely. But two weeks of rest could be too much.

If we look at the past two seasons for the 49ers, we see a team that didn't get any rest, but moved on and almost got back to the Super Bowl. The question is, if they had been a little more rested, would they have had enough gas to get over the top?

I have been a fan since Montana played, from the other side of the country too. As a veteran, I know the importance of rest. It's what keeps people like us healthy, and also helps us heal. But I also know the importance of training and muscle memory exercises. How much rest before practicing again after the end of the season do you think will be needed? And what kind of practice are we talking about? - Adam F.

For the healthy players, I think the practice days will be business as usual. But as I mentioned above, the game will be different, with some starters potentially sitting. And those starters who do play may not play much. But I believe practices will be like they are the rest of the season.

First of all happy new year. We had some injuries and wanna ask about them. Is CMC's injury serious? When will Hargrave and Armstead be back? Is Jauan Jennings healthy enough to play football? He was in concussion protocol. - Abdullah K.

What is the timetable for Armstead's return? - Nunya

Will Thomas be able to play in the playoffs after having hand surgery? Who's in doubt of missing time in the playoffs? - Scott B.

Christian McCaffrey sustained a right calf strain in the third quarter on Sunday. He called it "minor." The star running back did not return to the game. Thankfully, he didn't need to as Elijah Mitchell had a great second half. Shanahan said on Monday that McCaffrey would not play in the regular season finale. But he should be fine by the playoff game.

Javon Hargrave played in the game against the Commanders. But certainly, the rest will help him Jauan Jennings has more time to pass the concussion protocol, so hopefully that happens this week. But I don't know that he would play on Sunday even if he does pass it. They may decide it's best to give him another week.

Ambry Thomas broke his hand. It will require surgery, but he should be good to go for the Divisional Round. The question for Thomas is how well he can play with a cast on his hand. That will make it harder to tackle and cover.

Shanahan also said on Monday that Ross Dwelley is unlikely to play this week. The coach said that Ji'Ayir Brown will be rehabbing his sprained knee, as well. I wouldn't expect Brown to play until the postseason.

The only one I'm concerned about right now is Arik Armstead. He's still dealing with the foot injury, and the 49ers don't seem to know when he'll be able to return. But by the time the 49ers play in the Divisional Playoff Round, it will have been about six weeks since Armstead last played. Perhaps that will be enough time.

One thing is for sure—the defense needs him.

Do you have any feeling one way or another about Armstead being ready for the playoffs? - Thomas H.

I believe Amrstead will be ready to roll. But that's just a guess. I have no way to know for sure.

Do we know if the Rams have anything to play for as far as seeding? Would be interesting to know if this game has any meaning and if SF would try to thwart LA's plans. - Matt

The Rams cannot improve upon their current number six seed. But there is the possibility they can fall to number seven. I would think Sean McVay will look at potential matchups and weigh that against playing his stars.

I hope the Rams play all of their players and for the whole game. Maybe they will help wear them out. But I doubt they will. Remember, McVay doesn't play his stars in the preseason. He doesn't even play his starters much in the preseason.

Since the 9ers have the easiest path to a Super Bowl berth, which teams do you not want to see and why? - Sasha R.

I'm not sure what to expect from Detroit, but I don't think they're quite ready to contend. I'm not concerned about Philadelphia. They don't seem like they can beat anyone.

Dallas makes me a little nervous because they have a lot of talent, and at some point, you'd think the 49ers' luck against them would run out. But they can't win away from home.

The NFC team I'm the most concerned about is the Rams. They're hot, and their offense gave the 49ers trouble in September. And they are better now with Cooper Kupp and Kyren Williams.

In the AFC, it has to be the Ravens. They match up with the 49ers better than anyone. We saw that on Christmas night.

The Dolphins don't scare me. The Chiefs don't scare me. The Bills might be a little scary because of Josh Allen. But to me, it's the Ravens that I'm the most concerned about.

Is anyone concerned about Kyle's playcalling? I watched 80forBrady last night and I got cold shivers. IMO, virtually every game features at least one or two very peculiar calls that nobody can rationally explain. - QBGraz

No, Shanahan's offense is not the part of the team we should be worried about. This season, it's the defense. Shanahan is an elite play-caller, and many teams would love to have him. The 49ers are fortunate to have one of the top coaches and play-callers on their side of the field.

In your estimation, which 49ers are trending upwards? And who's trending down on this squad? - Ed H.

Trending up: Charvarius Ward

Ward has been playing extremely well. He's become one of the top corners in the league, even when guarding some of the best NFL wide receivers.

Trending down: Run defense

I hate to name anyone because the team is playing so well. So I'm going to say the run defense. Even though they fared pretty well against Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, and haven't been as bad as we think they've been, I would still say the run defense is the team's biggest weakness right now. On Sunday, the run defense will be tested against Williams and the Rams' rushing attack.

The 49ers' defense is still missing too many tackles, which is one reason the run defense is struggling, at times. The good news is that the 49ers' defense will get some rest over the next couple of weeks, and that may be huge in correcting the tackling issues, which should help the run defense.

A rested and healthy 49ers defense is as good as any.

That's it for this week's 49ers Webzone Mailbag. Thank you for all your questions.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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