“Next man up” is more reality than cliche when it comes to the 49ers.
It came up again and again following a 37-15 road win Sunday over the Carolina Panthers, during which the 49ers lost edge rusher Nick Bosa to a groin injury, place kicker Robbie Gould to a left leg injury and cornerback Emmanuel Moseley to a possible torn ACL that could end his season.
They went into the game already missing both of their defensive tackles, Arik Armstead (both feet, ankle) and Javon Kinlaw (knee). Left tackle Trent Williams missed his second game with a high ankle sprain. Lead runner Elijah Mitchell went down to an MCL strain in Week 1 and won’t return until after. Trey Lance, their quarterback of the future, is done for the season with a broken ankle.
Tight end George Kittle (groin) missed the first two games. Free safety Jimmie Ward returned from a hamstring strain after missing four games and promptly broke his hand against Carolina. Azeez Al-Shaair, a starting linebacker, is out with an MCL strain. So is left tackle Colton McKivitz, the “next man up” when Williams went down.
A look at some 49ers players who have served admirably as “next man up” as well as those could be called upon in the future:
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo
You know the story. He thought he was out, then he was back in again. And it just might save the 49ers season.
Keep in mind that Garoppolo, inn his fifth season as a starter with the 49ers, has missed time due to injury in every season but one. So that means Brock Purdy could be a factor at some point.
Running back Jeff Wilson Jr.
Rushed for 120 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown against Carolina and completely recovered from a torn meniscus which didn’t allow him to run with his usual abandon a year go. Coach Kyle Shanahan said he respects him as much as any player he’s ever coached.
The hope is Wilson can hold down the fort until Mitchell returns. If not, there’s always . . .
Running backs Tevin Coleman, Ty Davis-Price
Cut by the Jets, Coleman came back to the 49ers on the practice squad, was promoted to the 53-man roster the last two weeks and against the Panthers rushed eight times for 23 yards and caught three passes for 44 more. Coleman played for Shanahan when he was the offensive coordinator in Atlanta as well as with the 49ers in 2019-20.
Davis-Price, according to GM John Lynch on KNBR, is getting close to returning. He flashed against Seattle. The rookie from LSU would join a crowded room that also includes former 1,000-yard rusher Marlon Mack.
Left tackle Jaylon Moore
Held his own both against the Rams and Panthers after Williams and McKivitz went down. He’ll keep the job through the Atlanta game while the 49ers keep their fingers crossed Williams can return for an Oct. 23 home date against Kansas City at Levi’s Stadium.
Tight end Ross Dwelley
In the 49ers’ Week 2 win over Seattle, Dwelley caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from Garoppolo while Kittle was inactive.
Guard/center Daniel Brunskill
Rookie Spencer Burford retained his starting job against Carolina and probably will start again against Atlanta at right guard. But Brunskill will play — rest assured when the 49ers visit the Los Angeles Rams and Aaron Donald on Oct. 30, he’ll have a role.
Defensive tackles Kevin Givens, Hassan Ridgeway
The Panthers found it difficult to gain much ground up the middle against the 49ers as Givens and Ridgeway filled in admirably for Armstead and Kinlaw. They’ll be needed again as starters against Atlanta, and considering Armstead weighs 290 pounds and has trouble with both feet and that Kinlaw could be maintaining a surgically repaired knee all season, they’ll get plenty of work.
Defensive ends Charles Omenihu, Drake Jackson
Each had a sack against Carolina in the second half while Bosa was out. Bosa and his skill set cannot be replaced and the 49ers have their fingers crossed this isn’t the kind of injury which kept their start defensive lineman out of his final season at Ohio State.
Free safety Tashaun Gipson
Signed when Jimmie Ward was injured, Gipson proved he had a lot left. GM John Lynch told KNBR the 49ers erred as much as anyone else for not realizing how much. He bonded immediately with budding star Talanoa Hufanga and has played extremely well. If Ward’s broken hand keeps him out a few more weeks, free safety is in good hands. Shared a sack with Oren Burks against Carolina.
Cornerbacks Samuel Womack Jr., Jason Verrett, Ambry Thomas
The expected loss of Moseley stings. Along with Charvarius “Mooney” Ward, it gave the 49ers their best cornerback tandem in terms of coverage in recent memory. Moseley is in a free agent year too, so it’s costly both to the 49ers as well as for his own financial well-being.
Womack began the year as the starting nickel back before being displaced by Deommodore Lenoir, who has given the 49ers no reason to move him from that spot especially if Ward is out.
Verrett made it back to practice last week and still might be a week away. But before he was injured in the opener last season with a torn ACL, he was considered the 49ers best cornerback. If he’s anywhere close to the player he was when healthy with the Chargers, Verrett will be a big help.
Thomas struggled mightily when forced into the lineup last season as a rookie out of Michigan who opted out in the COVID year. He was in the lineup and making plays by the end of the season. But with Moseley’s healthy, Mooney Ward’s signing, Lenoir’s development and a strong start by Womack, didn’t see the field on defense until the late going against Carolina.
LB Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles
The 49ers have gone heavy with the nickel defense, meaning Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw are the two linebackers. But Flannigan-Fowles had three tackles against Carolina including a sack while playing in place of Al-Shaair, who should miss several more weeks.
The way Gould was moving on the sidelines after being injured in kickoff coverage, the 49ers are in the market to be flying prospective place kickers to West Virginia for someone to do place kciks and kickoff against Atlanta. Rest assured it won’t be punter Mitch Wishnowsky.