49ers’ top-ranked defense practicing with skeleton crew in West Virginia


WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.V. — Nick Bosa missing a Wednesday practice sure is more concerning this week than last week.

That’s because Bosa is battling a groin issue that sidelined him after halftime of Sunday’s 37-15 win at Carolina. He was among seven would-be starters missing from the 49ers’ defense at practice.

Coach Kyle Shanahan, speaking between Wednesday’s walk-through and regular practices, said he’s hopeful Bosa might rally to play Sunday at the Atlanta Falcons (2-3).

How the 49ers (3-2) are adjusting the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense is a mystery unfolding here in the secluded Appalachian Mountains, where they’re practicing at The Greenbrier Resort for a third straight year between East Coast road games.

Samson Ebukam, who starts at defensive end opposite Bosa, was not practicing Wednesday because of Achilles tendinitis — an issue Shanahan attributed to playing on Carolina’s synthetic turf, and an issue that also was to limit guard Aaron Banks (knee).

Early-season injuries have also waylaid defensive tackles Arik Armstead (feet) and Javon Kinlaw (knee), linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair (knee), cornerback Emmanuel Moseley (knee) and safety Jimmie Ward (hamstring; hand). Armstead did not accompany the 49ers on this trip but Kinlaw did, as did Moseley.

Ward underwent surgery Tuesday on the left hand he fractured on Sunday’s opening kickoff. He will be evaluated in a few weeks whether he can play with a club-like soft cast, Shanahan said.

“The expectations are the same, the responsibilities are the same,” linebacker Fred Warner said of the defensive replacements. “We don’t change things to cover, say, a guy’s weakness. The expectation is the same no matter who’s out there.”

One defensive player potentially back out there is cornerback Jason Verrett. He warmed up nicely alongside Charvarius Ward and the defensive backs coaches, but there’s no indication Verrett’s season debut will be rushed in the wake of Moseley’s ACL tear.

WHAT ABOUT AIYUK?

A year ago at The Greenbrier, Brandon Aiyuk was under intense scrutiny because he didn’t start the season opener at Detroit the preceding week. This time, coach Kyle Shanahan made it abundantly clear that Aiyuk has not returned to the doghouse.

“Everyone expects numbers based off guys playing well, and it doesn’t always work that way,” Shanahan said. “B.A.’s been playing really good. He had his best game against Carolina, his second-best game the week before, but the ball doesn’t always go that way.

“… His time will come. When we’ve come to B.A., he’s done a hell of a job. He had some opportunities last week and we just didn’t get it to him, which would help stats and perceptions. That’s all it really is to me — perception. B.A. is playing his (butt) off.”

Aiyuk’s 17 catches on 27 targets for 237 yards and one touchdown rank behind only Deebo Samuel (20-37-266-2). Shanahan praised Aiyuk’s route running and blocking on every play, adding: “I don’t base if guys are playing good or bad off their stats. I watch what they do on each play. … He’s playing very good football right now.”

MORE REHAB EFFORTS

— Left tackle Trent Williams worked with a trainer on a side field in his comeback from a Sept. 25 high-ankle sprain.

— Kicker Robbie Gould seemed to run well despite his left knee getting banged hard into Carolina’s synthetic turf Sunday.

— Running back Ty Davis-Price practiced for the first time since his high-ankle sprain in the home opener.

— Banks, despite knee tendinitis from Sunday’s game, lined up in his usual starting spot as the offensive line.

— Tight end George Kittle, who missed the first two games with a groin strain, said “the last 10 days I’ve felt like myself.”

QB CUT, MACK RETURNS

The 49ers are a two-quarterback team once again, at least for a short while. Quarterback Kurt Benkert’s three-week stay on the practice squad came to an end Wednesday morning when he was released.

The 49ers needed to make room on the practice squad for the return of running back Marlon Mack, a day after his roster release, and the addition of kicker Sam Sloman, who’s filling in while Robbie Gould works through a knee contusion.

Jimmy Garoppolo will make his fourth straight start Sunday, and his backup remains Brock Purdy, who made his NFL debut Sunday by taking the final snap and kneeling to clock out a 37-15 win.

Season-opening starter Trey Lance, three weeks removed from ankle surgery, did not travel on this trip but is participating in meetings via video conference. The plan is for him to go on the remaining road trips after this Sunday’s game in Atlanta.


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