49ers’ plan keeps George Kittle out of Cowboys game; Justin Skule to make first start at guard

Kyle Shanahan liked what he saw in George Kittle’s “unbelievable” return to practice this week. One disclaimer: Kittle was merely on the scout team.
So don’t expect Kittle to suit up for Sunday’s visit to the Dallas Cowboys, seven weeks after sustaining a foot fracture in Seattle.
Shanahan said Kittle has “a chance” the 49ers’ closing two games of the regular season, Dec. 26 at the Arizona Cardinals and Jan. 3 against the Seattle Seahawks, also at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., where the 49ers relocated because of Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 regulations.
Shanahan said the 49ers are taking the same approach to Kittle’s comeback as from earlier this season, when he returned to practice in Week 3 from a knee sprain but did not play until Week 4 against Philadelphia.
“He was fresh and looked good,” Shanahan said on KNBR 680-AM. “It’s all about what the doctors say. It’s how he feels this weekend, the soreness and stuff like that. That’s what your debate is, if there’s anything lingering and what the safety issues are of putting him out there.”
Also still on Injured Reserve is Jimmy Garoppolo, whose ankle injury that same game Nov. 1 in Seattle has kept him off the practice field, and that might remain so if the 49ers (5-8) lose Sunday and get eliminated from playoff contention.
Nick Mullens will make his sixth straight at quarterback in place of Garoppolo.
General manager John Lynch indicated that staying alive in the playoff race Sunday also would factor into whether they’re “inclined” to bring back Kittle and Garoppolo.
“George has a broken bone; it’s healed at a good rate. He’s coming along fairly well,” Lynch said Thursday on KNBR. “We feel fairly good and we’ll still have a decision to make.
“Jimmy, the problem or the alternative or the consequence if it goes bad, he might have to have some surgery and we just don’t want to go there if we don’t have to. Now, he has made tremendous progress. There will be a decision there. This weekend will factor into that decision and at least have some part of it.”
Justin Skule, who started eight games at left tackle as a rookie fill-in last year, is expected to make his first career start at right guard on Sunday. With Colton McKivitz on the NFL’s COVID-19 reserve list and Tom Compton on Injured Reserve (concussion), Skule is the last available player who has experience playing in this offense.
“He knows what to do, looked good in practice and I feel good to go with him,” Shanahan said.
Skule briefly practiced at guard during training camp in August. He will be their fourth different starter at right guard this season, following McKivitz, Compton and Daniel Brunskill, who started the first eight games there before shifting to center. Brunskill is currently playing through a shoulder sprain.
Official status reports will be posted later today. Shanahan is to address reporters via video conference at about 12:45 p.m. PT.
Lynch echoed coach Kyle Shanahan’s statement earlier this week that they wouldn’t flinch to again draft right tackle Mike McGlinchey, their top pick in 2018. Lynch said that while McGlinchey has been “dominant” as a run blocker, the pass protection has lacked at key times this season.
“The thing with Mike, and I’m trying to think with how you’d equate it to a basketball player: occasionally he’ll shoot an air ball,” Lynch said. “His bad ones are whiffs and look really bad. But he still does block the guy in front of him at a very high rate.”
Endorsing McGlinchey is a clue that the 49ers will exercise his fifth-year option for 2022. Lynch noted that McGlinchey got “a little light” this past offseason and they’ll want him to add strength for “more anchor” next season.
“What happens to the viewer at home, he’ll have some snaps that are bad. The hold (penalty) at the end (of Sunday’s game), those are tough,” Lynch added. “But I can tell you he does his job and does it well a large percentage of the time. Some of that is optics. If you’re grading on a consistency basis, he plays at a fairly high level.”
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