SANTA CLARA — At first, it looked as though Richard Sherman was just taking a veteran’s day off, walking around the practice field and coaching up cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon while in shorts and a t-shirt. He moved around fine as he demonstrated some footwork.
Over an hour later, the San Francisco 49ers released their practice participation report for Thursday. Sherman was not just taking a veteran’s day. He was listed as out with a heel injury. Neither Sherman nor defensive coordinator Robert Saleh made any mention of the heel injury in their press briefings.
Sherman has had surgery on both his ankles in the past 10 months — tearing his right Achilles in November, and then having another procedure this offseason to remove bone spurs from his left Achilles.
He missed just one preseason game due to injury, and has still played all of the team’s 148 defensive snaps over the first two games, allowing just one catch. Even with the return of Reuben Foster from his two-game suspension, a hobbled secondary could be disastrous against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3, given the early success of rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes and burner Tyreek Hill.
A potential Sherman absence — alongside the safety Jaquiski Tartt (DNP with a shoulder) and Witherspoon (limited with ankle, hip injuries) — would be coming at precisely the wrong time. The Chiefs are ninth in the NFL in passing (289 ypg) but second in yards per attempt (10.6), and Mahomes has completed 10 touchdowns to no interceptions, and taken just two sacks.
Witherspoon was said to have hurt his ankle late in Sunday’s win over the Detroit Lions, but he also got burned for two touchdowns.
“Ahkello came out strong mentally, like he always does,” Saleh said before practice. “I’m excited to see him work throughout the rest of the week for sure.”
If he can’t go, Jimmie Ward would play corner. If Tartt can’t go, there are several other options.
“There’s [DB Antone] Exum [Jr.] getting his reps,” Saleh said. “Of course, [DB] Tyvis [Powell] getting his reps. [DB] D.J. Reed [Jr.] can also get reps in there. Again, that’s another area we’re working through to make sure we can put the best player forward. So, there’s three guys working in that spot while JT is not practicing.”
The biggest blow, though, would be Sherman, who saw only two passes thrown his way in Week 2 against the Lions. The 30-year old All-Pro has eight years of experience that the younger defensive backs can draw on. The Chiefs, Saleh said, will mess with defenders’ eyes.
“They’ve got a lot of different jet sweeps and movement,” Saleh said. “They’ve got a very good vertical pass game. They’ve got a good run game. So, you never know what they’re going to do when they break the huddle and you’ve got to be ready, basically ready for everything.”