The San Francisco 49ers are back in The Bay after opening up the 2022 NFL regular season on the road versus the Chicago Bears. In a hard-fought battle in the elements, the team came up short, falling 19-10 at Soldier Field. The 49ers will look to regroup before welcoming in their NFC West rival, the Seattle Seahawks, to Levi's® Stadium this weekend for the home opener.
One of the adjustments head coach Kyle Shanahan will be tasked with involves a change in available personnel at the running back position. Second-year player Elijah Mitchell exited Sunday's contest early after suffering a knee injury in the first half. On Monday, the head coach shared more information on the severity of the injury.
"Elijah Mitchell has an MCL sprain," Shanahan said. "He's not going to need surgery, but it's going to be some time. He'll end up going on IR."
Shanahan later added the projected timetable for Mitchell's return is eight weeks. The head coach also noted the injury likely occurred in the second quarter of the opener when Mitchell took a big hit during an 11-yard run. No. 25 closed out the game with 41 yards on six carries. With those 41 yards, Mitchell surpassed the 1,000 yard rushing mark (1,004 yards) in his 12th-career game, and by doing so, became the fastest player in 49ers history to hit that milestone, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"He was pretty down," Shanahan said. "For obvious reasons, we're down for him. Elijah went through a lot last year. It was well documented, the injuries he had. He really worked hard this offseason. He was feeling really good going into that game, and man, I thought he looked really good before he got hurt."
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk echoed the sentiment.
"I've had my arm around Elijah here for a little bit," Juszczyk said. "I feel for him. It really stinks for him personally and for us as a team because we feel, Elijah, he truly is one of the premiere backs in this league."
San Francisco has been in this position before —in 2021, the 49ers lost their top running back in Raheem Mostert to a season-ending knee injury in the team's Week 1 opener versus the Detroit Lions. The 49ers turned to Mitchell in his absence, and No. 25 set a new franchise rookie rushing record with his 963 regular season rushing yards.
"It's something that has happened to us in the past (losing a starting running back to injury in Week 1)," Shanahan said. "That's why you can never have too many (running backs) of them. Sometimes it feels like we have a lot, and very quickly, it now feels like you don't."
With Mitchell out for the time being, the 49ers have three available running backs on the roster—Jeff Wilson Jr., Jordan Mason and Tyrion Davis-Price—in addition to wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who often lines up in the backfield, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk to contribute to the ground game. Starting quarterback Trey Lance will also likely be adding rushing yards of his own. The 49ers QB1 displayed his dual-threat quarterback abilities against the Bears and was the team's leading rusher with 54 yards on 13 carries.
The only other injured player from Sunday's game was defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw. He suffered an ankle sprain but is not expected to miss any time. Per Shanahan, tight end George Kittle, who has been dealing with a groin injury, made the trip to Chicago in the hopes of playing but was ultimately sidelined. Kittle's outlook for Week 2 is unclear.
"I hope he's ready to go Wednesday, but we're not sure yet," Shanahan said. "He'll be working to get back this week."
The team will reconvene at the SAP Performance Facility on Wednesday in preparation for their Week 2 contest against Seattle.