The 49ers will need to plan for at least the next three games without Debo Samuel, and Kyle Shanahan is confident the wide receiver group will step up in the absence of an All-Pro injury.
Shanahan was relieved that Samuel had suffered less seriously Ankle sprain and MCL injury than was originally thought. It is expected that the “wide back” out for “three weeks”meaning he could return for Week 18 when the 49ers host the Arizona Cardinals in the regular season finale.
Until then, Brandon Ayuk, Joanne Jennings, Ray Ray McCloud and Danny Gray will need to fill the void.
“I think the other guys are more than ready,” Shanahan said Tuesday. “I think these guys love the chance. They always want to be out there more. They’re pissed that I’m not in every five games, so these guys are enjoying that.”
The 49ers lineup of wides had to go without both Samuel and Jennings in Week 8 when both were dealing with hamstring injuries. Ayuk was Jimmy Garoppolo’s top receiver, hauling all six of his targets for 81 yards and a touchdown reception.
Christian McCaffrey was also a big part of the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive dominance in Week 8, as he threw a touchdown pass, hit a touchdown reception and rushed for a touchdown.
“I know they’ve done a hell of a job for the Rams,” Shanahan said. “Even that week we thought we were going to get Joanne, we ended up not making it at the end of the week and a number of guys had to come forward, so our guys would be ready on Thursday.”
Gray finally earned his first pass as an NFL wide receiver in Week 14 and Shanahan expects to see more of that from the rookie. Shanahan has previously spoken about the need for Southern Methodist’s product to be more consistent and Gray seems to be stepping up.
“I think Danny got the urgency he had, he’s really been picking on it here the last six weeks,” Shanahan said. “His play has improved a lot, so we felt it was only a matter of time when he could help us out there and he’s doing things the right way and he’s gone further in the game than before.”
The 49ers can also look to work McCloud in a similar fashion to Samuel. While McCloud isn’t quite the same body type as Samuel, the five-year NFL veteran plays like he is. The 26-year-old is a standout on special teams, and he’s ready for a bigger role.
“Yeah, you can use it similarly,” Shanahan said. “They’re definitely different bodies, but don’t tell Ray Ray that. He gets so offended. If you put Deebo in any race and tell him he can only do these things, but not this one, you’ll have to prepare or make time to meet with him for an hour later, because He will convince you otherwise.
“And that’s why he’s been such a good football player his entire career. Ray Ray is a bulldog right there and he doesn’t think about his size.”
Samuel is difficult to replace, but Shanahan is confident the 49ers have the personnel to hold the fort for a few weeks.
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