SANTA CLARA — Trey Lance’s left knee sure looks healed, the familiar way he zigged, zagged and stepped into high-velocity throws at Wednesday’s return to practice.
But enough about the 49ers’ backup quarterback.
OK, OK, it’s encouraging to see no lingering effects from an Oct. 10 knee sprain to “the future here,” as coach Kyle Shanahan has referred to his rookie quarterback.
And no matter the outcries from a frustrated fan base, Shanahan is not feeling pressure from anyone — including ownership or general manager John Lynch — to play Lance sooner than required.
Hence, Jimmy Garoppolo is allowed a Chicago homecoming this Sunday. He’ll be back at Soldier Field where he won his 49ers’ starting debut in December 2017, and he’s expecting over 100 friends and family to converge from his nearby hometown of Arlington Heights.
The 49ers (2-4) enter with a four-game losing streak, their longest since October 2018, and that is not prompting Shanahan to rush in Lance (No. 3 overall pick) for a duel against Bears rookie Justin Fields (No. 11).
“Our first point of discussion is how healthy he is and how will he look today,” Shanahan said of Lance, who hadn’t practice since getting hurt in his starting debut. “Just because of how our last four games have gone, that doesn’t really affect whether we play Trey or not.”
A decade ago, Shanahan and his father, Mike, thrust rookie Robert Griffin III into the mix for Daniel Snyder’s Washington franchise. Here, there are no marching orders from the York ownership to insert Lance, especially not with his health suspect.
“We’re always on the same page with that stuff. There’s not that much to talk to them about it,” Shanahan said. “They know how I feel and I know how they feel.
“We didn’t draft Trey to just fix this year. We drafted him so can be the quarterback here of the future, and it’s a matter of time.”
Shanahan has never wavered from that stance, of keeping Garoppolo the starter while Lance learns on the side and in a cameo role. Shanahan angrily disputed a report, in Seth Wickersham’s recently published book about the New England Patriots, that the 49ers turned down a second-round pick from the Patriots in a trade offer for Garoppolo this offseason.
The Shanahan-Garoppolo union started four years ago, and, this time back in Chicago, Garoppolo knows Shanahan’s offense more than the 2017 win, when he was learning concepts on the bench between series of a 15-14, field-goal-laden win.
Garoppolo didn’t downplay how playing there is special, saying: “Going home is always fun. It’s where the first (49ers start) happened. “I’ve got over 100 friends and family coming.
“That Chicago crowd is ruthless, though. We played in Philly this year and it was a pretty hostile environment. I’m sure this will be pretty similar to that. It’ll be a fun Sunday.”
Philadelphia is where he and the 49ers’ last won, on Sept. 19.
KINLAW FACING SURGERY
Defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw is in Los Angeles for his knee injury that could require season-ending surgery. Kinlaw, last year’s top draft pick, missed Sunday’s game and did not practice last week following the bye because of a December 2020 knee injury that already required a procedure in January.
Kinlaw has eight tackles, one quarterback hit and no sacks through four starts, having also missed the season opener.
“He’s down in L.A., trying to figure that out, whether it’s going to be a surgery or not, and what kind of surgery,” Shanahan said.
To help fill Kinlaw’s void (or, if you will, DeForest Buckner’s void, dating back to last year), the 49ers activated Kevin Givens’ practice window to likely pull him off injured reserve, and Kentavius Street must “take it to another level to help our team out,” Shanahan said. Maurice Hurst (calf) remained out after getting hurt in last Thursday’s practice.
SAMUEL, WILLIAMS OUT
Leading receiver Deebo Samuel (calf) did not practice for the first time this season, nor did left tackle Trent Williams, who missed Sunday’s game because of an ankle injury.
Samuel is the NFL’s fourth-leading receiver (648 yards) and, because he was part of Wednesday’s walk-through session, Shanahan is optimistic to have Samuel back this week.
Also out Wednesday were defensive end Dee Ford (concussion protocol), linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair (concussion protocol) and strong safety Jaquiski Tartt (knee bruise).
FIELDS’ ‘BREAKOUT GAME’
Rookie quarterback Justin Fields told Chicago reporters the Bears’ offense is “very close” to a breakout game: “I can feel it. You just have those feelings. It’s coming.”
Linebacker Fred Warner’s response: “Shoot, I hope that’s their expectation. They’re going through a lull. We’re going through a lull. It’s make or break for both teams.”
The Bears rank last in the league with three touchdown passes, 225.4 total yards per game and a 31.3-percent third-down efficiency, the latter of which is tied with the Jaguars and just behind the 49ers (31.4 percent).
Since replacing Andy Dalton as the Bears’ starter in Week 3, Fields has gone 2-3, and he’s completing 57.6 percent of his overall passes with two touchdowns, six interceptions and a NFL-high 22 sacks.
“I’m not oblivious to the fact I’m a rookie and have a lot to learn,” Fields said. “At the same time, I’m talented enough and smart enough to make the right decisions on the field and be successful. … You can learn from the side, but it’s better if you’re in the game or in practice learning through reps that way.”
Fields was drafted No. 11 overall; the 49ers took Lance No. 3.
DEFENSIVE BACK SWITCH
The 49ers didn’t fire any of their defensive backs after Sunday’s five pass-interference penalties raised their NFL-high total to 14. But they did alter their warmup routine: secondary coach Cory Undlin lobbed about 100 passes in one-on-one situations and emphasized playing the ball rather than initiating contact.
“We’ll give them more live, full-speed reps. It’s way too bad right now,” Shanahan added.
Cornerback Jason Verrett watched nearby on crutches from his recent anterior cruicate ligament repair, to which he says he’s feeling good.
NO KHALIL MACK?
Khalil Mack reportedly won’t have a chance to add to his team-leading six sacks. A foot injury will keep him out and possibly send him to injured reserve, the NFL Network reported. Bears coach Matt Nagy only would say the Bears are “working through everything” and have not decided on Mack’s status. Robert Quinn (COVID reserve) and Akiem Hicks (groin) also might miss the game.
PUNT RETURN WOES
Brandon Aiyuk deserves an assist on what became the Colts’ longest punt in franchise history, a 79-yarder initially off the foot of Rigoberto Sanchez before Aiyuk booted it at the 17-yard line and into the end zone where he recovered it for a rules-generating touchback. Sanchez was named AFC special teams player of the week.
“On that play, the coaching point is you’d like Aiyuk to get over, field it, catch it, and, if he does, it’s a 45-yard punt,” special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said. “What I was impressed about is our team’s reaction. Yeah, no one wants to be in that situation there, but there was no panic by our guys.”
Hightower confirmed Aiyuk is still the 49ers’ punt returner, averaging 7.4 yards on 12 punt returns with no fair catches and no return longer than 14 yards. Mohamed Sanu has two returns (12.0 average) and three fair catches.