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John Lynch discusses how Dre Greenlaw’s injury impacts 49ers plan at linebacker

Marc Adams
Mar 2, 2024 at 9:45 AM--

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The San Francisco 49ers defense was smothering the Kansas City Chiefs offense in Super Bowl LVIII. Chiefs star QB Patrick Mahomes was struggling, and tight end Travis Kelce was visibly frustrated, even appearing to push head coach Andy Reid on the sideline. It looked as if the 49ers might finally win that elusive sixth Super Bowl.

And then it happened. While running back onto the field, linebacker Dre Greenlaw slipped and tore his Achilles. And while one can argue whether or not that injury cost the 49ers the Super Bowl, it certainly had a major impact, as Kelce, now mostly being guarded by Oren Burks, became a major player in Kansas City's victory.

Greenlaw's injury, without question, hurt the 49ers bid to win Super Bowl LVIII. But how will the injury affect the 49ers in 2024? General manager John Lynch recently sat down with Matt Maiocco, of NBC Sports Bay Area, to discuss some of the questions surrounding the team, including Greenlaw.

Maiocco asked about Greenlaw's status and how that might impact the 49ers this offseason. Do the 49ers currently have someone who can step up and fill in for Greenlaw until he returns? Lynch responded, "Achilles, you know, they take some time, right? So you've got to respect that. Now, having said that, I know that Dre, he's a special athlete. Those guys tend to heal faster, but I think with an Achilles, there's just a timeline that you kind of have to give it. You can be ultra-aggressive. You also got to be smart. And so we will be."

Depending on who you ask, Greenlaw could return from the injury in six months, nine months, or miss the entire 2024 season. I reached out to Dr. Nirav Pandya, Professor of UCSF Orthopedic Surgery, and Director of Sports Medicine at Benioff Children's Hospital for his opinion. Dr. Pandya said, "A couple of studies show that about 70 percent of NFL linebackers return to play after the injury." So not every player who suffers an Achilles injury returns? I didn't like the sound of that.

But Dr. Pandya continued, "They end up returning between 9-12 months after the injury." That sounded better, but nine months after Greenlaw's injury would be November. So if Greenlaw can return, what will he look like? We all know he's a violent player, who Kyle Shanahan calls "the enforcer," He relies on speed, and if his speed and change of direction are compromised, how much of an impact can he have in 2024?

Dr. Pandya added, "That being said, there are a lot of newer surgical techniques/aggressive rehab that have allowed some more recent players (i.e. Aaron Rodgers and Cam Akers) to come back on an accelerated timeline, so there is still a possibility he could be back in time for the first half of the season."

There have been others recently who have come out and suggested that Greenlaw could return by training camp, which would be around six months after his injury. But would that be pushing it too much? Lynch mentioned being aggressive, yet playing it smart. And again, how will Greenlaw be able to perform when he does return?

Regardless, the 49ers have to be prepared for a season without Greenlaw. Lynch continued, "And so do you have to make contingency plans? Well, maybe those contingency plans were last year, with the two rookies that we drafted, Dee Winters and Jalen Graham. And can they take that step, or do we need to go insulate them? Those are decisions we have to make, and we're constantly looking into those things, seeing if we feel comfortable or do we need to add to the equation."

Winters, a sixth-round draft pick in 2023, played in 15 regular season games, as well as all three postseason games. He played mostly on special teams. He had 10 tackles, one pass defended in the regular season, and one tackle in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Graham, a seventh-round selection in 2023, was only active in four games. He finished with one tackle.

Will Greenlaw be ready for the 2024 season? If so, will he be the Greenlaw we're accustomed to seeing? Can Winters or Graham step up and fill in if Greenlaw can't go? The 49ers were high on both players as rookies. We'll see how the rest of the offseason unfolds.

Watch Maiocco's interview with Lynch below:


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