49ers’ improved health dampened by Trent Williams injury

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In the opening minutes of the San Francisco 49ers’ practice Friday, there was a lot to be optimistic about on the injury front.

Running back Christian McCaffrey (knee) and defensive lineman Arik Armstead (foot, ankle) were again participating in practice. Even catcher Deebo Samuel (quad) was in uniform and helmet.

But that optimism quickly faded when left tackle Trent Williams walked slowly off the field and headed straight for the locker room before team drills began. Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said Williams is dealing with back spasms, which have cast doubt on his fitness for Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

“I’m not too worried about it,” Shanahan said. “I asked [offensive line coach] chris [Foerster] if it was ok He said it was just big guy problems… You usually have them on game day, that’s a big problem, so he had them today. He’ll spend the day resting and stuff. And we hope he’s okay.”

Officially, the Niners list Williams as questionable for Sunday. If he can’t play, the 49ers will likely turn to third-year tackle Colton McKivitz. McKivitz replaced Williams in the Week 4 win against the Los Angeles Rams.

Questionable is the same designation the Niners gave to Samuel, who was in uniform Friday but didn’t do much in practice, according to Shanahan. Samuel was listed as limited on Wednesday and did not participate on Thursday.

“There were no hiccups,” Shanahan said. “When you have a deep bruise in your thigh, you have an idea of ​​what it’s going to be like and it just hasn’t been as good as we hoped right now. We were hoping he could be full now but he wasn’t able to, so there’s some concern.” .

If Samuel can’t play, the 49ers would turn to a group that includes Jauan Jennings and Ray-Ray McCloud to replace him.

In addition to Williams and Samuel, Niners guard Spencer Burford (ankle) and defensive lineman Charles Omenihu (knee) are also listed as questionable.

Meanwhile, for the second time this season, running back Elijah Mitchell has been placed on injured reserve, meaning he must miss at least the next four games before being eligible to return. Mitchell is expected to miss six to eight weeks with the medically sprained collateral ligament in his left knee that he sustained in last week’s win against the New Orleans Saints.

As San Francisco grapples with those key injury questions, it will have two of its best players available.

McCaffrey and Armstead do not have an injury designation and are cleared to go. McCaffrey has been dealing with what the Niners called “knee irritation” this week and was unable to practice Wednesday. But he played the last few days and indicated Thursday that he could play against the Dolphins.

“I feel great,” McCaffrey said.

Armstead’s return has been in the making for much longer. He has been dealing with injuries to both feet and ankles since Week 4. His return comes after missing the previous seven games. Shanahan noted that Armstead has had a “good week” and “passed the eye test” of what the Niners wanted to see from him to return. “It’s good to see him, so he’s struggled to come back,” defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said.

“It’s been a long road for him, so it’s good to have him back,” he added. “…If we get an All-Pro player who can help our defense, that would be a huge boost for us, so I’m excited for Armstead and just him working his way back.”

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