Less than a week before their preseason opener, the 49ers might have already suffered two losses.
On Saturday, head coach Kyle Shanahan said inside linebacker Malcolm Smith and guard Joshua Garnett, both likely starters this season, have sustained injuries that could sideline them for an extended period.
“Neither one of them are good news, that’s for sure” Shanahan said. “We’re still holding out hoping they can help us this year.”
Smith’s chest injury, which he sustained in practice Saturday, is believed to the most serious. Shanahan said it could be a long-term issue after Smith exited practice to get an MRI.
Smith’s injury could open the door for first-round pick Reuben Foster to open the season as the starter alongside NaVorro Bowman. On Saturday, Ray-Ray Armstrong assumed Smith’s spot after he was injured.
Meanwhile, Garnett, a 2016 first-round pick, did not practice Saturday because of a knee injury that Shanahan suggested could require minor surgery.
“There’s some stuff in his knee we’re probably going to have to clean up,” Shanahan said. “I don’t think it’s anything long-term, but it’s going to be a little bit of time.”
Smith, 28, a former Super Bowl MVP, was the 49ers’ biggest free-agent signing on defense. He signed a five-year contract with $11.5 million guaranteed in March and part of the 49ers’ attraction to him was Smith’s familiarity with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s 4-3 scheme. Smith spent his first three seasons in the NFL with Saleh, who was a low-level defensive assistant with the Seahawks from 2011-13.
“That would be a big one for us,” Bowman told reporters of Smith’s injury. “We’ve really been (communicating) about offenses and what they try to do to us. That would be a loss. Let’s hope not.”
Garnett, who started 11 games as a rookie, has taken the vast majority of first-team snaps at left guard in training camp. In his absence, Zane Beadles took his spot Saturday. The loser of the starting center battle between Jeremy Zuttah and Daniel Kilgore could also be a candidate to start at left guard.