SANTA CLARA — Coming out of an early-season bye week, the San Francisco 49ers hoped to emerge with a healthy roster ready to play against the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football.
Instead, they placed cornerback Jason Verrett and rookie receiver Jalen Hurd on Injured Reserve, joining receiver Trent Taylor and defensive lineman Kentavious Street.
The losses of Verrett and Hurd exacerbate depth issues at positions the 49ers had once considered strengths. Instead of improving the roster as the season moved into its fifth week, San Francisco will have to go for its fourth straight win with largely the same crew that got them there.
“We knew we had to get through some tough times waiting for Trent and Jalen and they just didn’t recover the way it did,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We waited this out, we got to it and it hasn’t gotten better so we do have to move on for now. They have the chance to return.”
Expected to add size and versatility to the 49ers receiving corps devoid of a jump-ball threat, Hurd — a third-round pick — was felled early by a stress reaction in his back.
He caught three passes for 31 yards and two touchdowns in the preseason opener against the Cowboys, a performance that impressed Shanahan, but his back sidelined for the remainder of the preseason as well as the first three games of the regular season.
“Anytime you have a stress fracture in your back, that was the hard thing with it,” Shanahan said. “There are guys that have come back in three weeks and there are guys who it takes 10 weeks.”
In Hurd’s case, recovering from his stress fracture has taken much longer than the 49ers would have hoped.
Already without Taylor (foot surgery), the loss of Hurd leaves San Francisco vulnerable at wide receiver. With only five healthy wide-outs on their active roster, the 49ers decided to re-sign former Eagle and Patriot Jordan Matthews, who was cut at the conclusion of training camp.
“I mean it’s football. 53 guys make it so somebody has to get that news,” Matthews said. “Teams usually tell guys to stay ready because they know the system.”
Matthews, according to Shanahan, was on the cusp of making the team back in August but was ultimately cut in what he called a “tough decision.”
Ultimately, Matthews will be thrust into a Shanahan offense that heavily relies on crisp route-running and quick reads, but one in which he’s already well-versed.
“Jordan was one of the first guys that came up to me in the offseason and wanted to learn the intricacies of the offense,” 49ers starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “His work ethic is incredible… It’s good to have a guy like that back.”
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers defensive back corps has also shrunk, with the loss of Verrett being just the latest blow. It wasn’t a loss that was completely unexpected, though. Coming off a torn Achilles, and before that a torn ACL, he played just two snaps against Pittsburgh in Week 3. According to the 49ers, another knee injury now has him hung up.
“He had an injury in training camp, a different one, that didn’t allow him to work for the last couple weeks of training camp,” Shanahan said. “We’ve been trying to ease him back in these last three weeks. After the Pittsburgh game his knee just flared up over the week.”
In his short-lived appearance against the Steelers, Verrett did not look physically ready to play. He was called for a long defensive pass interfere his first play and was taken deep for a 39-yard touchdown covering Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson on the following snap.
The 49ers quickly replaced Verrett — who originally entered the game for an injured Ahkello Witherspoon — with Emmanuel Mosley, who finished the game at right corner.
While Mosley is expected to start against Cleveland, San Francisco’s corner depth with be tested as Witherspoon will also be out for at least three more weeks.
Facing a talented Browns receiving corps complete with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry — two of the best receivers in the league, Shanahan reckoned — the 49ers secondary will surely have their hands full.
The good news for the 49ers is that both Verrett and Hurd will be eligible for return from IR as each NFL team is allowed to bring back two players from the list after eight weeks each season.
“Hopefully that will work out, but that’s why we made the move today,” Shanahan said.