Kyle Shanahan embraces the challenge of replacing injured players

Mike Florio
ProFootball Talk on NBC Sports

The 49ers don’t have their starting tackles or their starting fullback for Sunday’s showdown with the Rams. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan welcomes the task of coaching up his backups to perform at a high level.

“That’s what I think we all like about coaching is the challenge each week of putting together a game plan with your team and trying to practice it and get better at it and then see how good everyone does on it versus whatever their plans are on Sunday,” Shanahan told reporters on Friday. “That’s what I enjoy about coaching most. That’s why I enjoy the NFL and hope I never have to go recruit and things like that.”

Shanahan likely won’t have to worry about being relegated to college coaching, given his ability to craft next-level game plans at the highest level of the sport. And he embraces the challenges that come with coaching at the highest level of the sport.

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“It’s part of the NFL, you have injuries every year so you always have to adjust,” Shanahan said. “The more you get to go through those situations, I think, the better you get at doing it. The first time I had to deal with injuries as a coordinator, you think that there’s no chance, but you start to realize the more you’re in this league that that happens all the time, so you’ve got to deal with it. That’s why depth’s so important. That’s why you’re always working with guys, working with the practice squad, working with the first guy on the roster and the last guy on the roster. The true cliché of you’re always one play away from starting, it happens a lot.”

One of those guys will be new right tackle Daniel Brunskill, an AAF alumnus who has all of eight NFL regular-season snaps. Shanahan sees a lot of similarities between Brunskill and Justin Skule, who has been filling in for injured left tackle Joe Staley.

“That’s what was very encouraging about it,” Shanahan said. “Not trying to say the same things as I said about Skule, but it is very similar. It was not too big for [Brunskill]. When guys get thrown into these roles, not just the media eyes are all on them, but teammates’ eyes are all on them, too. They know how big of a deal it is, they know someone is doing something for the first time. When a guy does that and looks the same as he has every other day, that is encouraging. The moment won’t be too big. He’ll go out there, he’ll have some good plays, some bad plays and hopefully we can string more good than bad.”

Shanahan is encouraged by the fact that Skule and Brunskill are even-keeled and level-headed.

“I very rarely hear them talk,” Shanahan said, “which new guys are like that a little bit because Joe and [Mike] McGlinchey don’t give much time for anybody to talk. But those guys are part of the group. They’re quiet, but they go to work every day and that’s kind of how their demeanor is on the field too.”

That demeanor will be tested against the Rams, who surely will move guys like Aaron Donald and Dante Fowler all over the place, hoping to find a glaring weakness in the wall of blocking that can been exploited. Shanahan isn’t freaked out about that possibility, and his faith in the team’s backups will perhaps keep them from freaking out, too.

If it works, the 49ers can move to 5-0 and drop the Rams to 3-3, making it nearly impossible for the two-time defending NFC West champions to overcome both the 49ers and Seahawks and win the division title for the third straight year, forcing them to scramble for the No. 5 or No. 6 seed in a conference with plenty of solid teams that won’t be winning their own divisions.

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