The San Francisco 49ers toughest test of the season is quickly approaching with the NFC Championship Game just four days away, but the first obstacle the team will have to tackle are injuries to key playmakers in the offensive backfield. The 49ers top two running backs, Christian McCaffrey (calf) and Elijah Mitchell (groin) were held out of practice on Wednesday and wide receiver Deebo Samuel (ankle) was a limited participant in San Francisco's first workout of the week. Head coach Kyle Shanahan was cautiously optimistic about all three players' readiness for their showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
"I expect them to (be available for the conference championship) but there are no guarantees," Shanahan said. "Especially being the NFC Championship Game, I think there's a better chance they'll be ready since there's nothing guaranteed after this, so hopefully. We'll keep our fingers crossed."
The outlook for Samuel improved in a matter of hours which bodes well for his status for Sunday. The head coach initially ruled the 'wideback' out of practice altogether, however, he was able to participate in an abbreviated capacity during the portion of practice open to the media. Shanahan also shared the ankle issue is not a new one for Samuel.
"It's been there for a little bit, and I think it'll be alright," Shanahan said.
Additionally, the return of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (foot) will not be happening this week. While Shanahan did leave the door ajar for Garoppolo's comeback leading up the conference championship, Garoppolo's comeback was only an "outside chance," and upon further testing, he "does not expect" to have him this week.
Reflecting on Past Trips to the Conference Championship
With this being the team's third trip to the NFC Championship in the last four years, it's hard not to look back as the team gears up for what's ahead this weekend. One player reflecting on some of the happy memories and tough losses is Samuel. The team's trip to Super Bowl LVI and appearance in the 2021 NFC Championship Game has provided some great motivation for him.
"Not just from last year, but I could go back to my rookie year, making the Super Bowl, you just have that bad taste in your mouth," Samuel said. "As you go back to last year, we were a couple plays to making the Super Bowl again and you just kind of think, 'Dang, what's it really going to take for us to get there?' We just have to minimize the mistakes, everybody has to be on their assignments to be where we want to be at the end of the year."
Linebacker Fred Warner has also taken a second to reflect on the accomplishment, and the work it's taken to get to this point.
"It seems like just yesterday we were getting ready to play the Rams, but it takes such a long season, a long grind," Warner said. "This part of the year, and this game specifically, it's all mental... Who can do right longer? Who can continue to push through for the end goal? Do you want it that bad? Are you starving for it?... That's where we're at."