After Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens, the San Francisco 49ers begin a stretch of five games in which they will face NFC West opponents four times.
No doubt that gauntlet of divisional matchups will be critical in determining the team's fate this season. Fortunately for the 49ers, they could be getting some reinforcements at just the right time.
San Francisco has three players who are eligible to return to practice as early as next Tuesday: Jerome Simpson (suspension), Daniel Kilgore (leg injury) and DeAndre Smelter (ACL surgery).
Simpson, who is in the final week of a six-week ban for legal troubles that predated his offseason signing with the 49ers, caught three passes for 40 yards in the preseason. In his five NFL seasons, the wide receiver has amassed 2,004 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.
Simpson hasn't been allowed to practice while serving his suspension, but Jim Tomsula told reporters on Friday that the veteran has stayed involved with other team activities.
"He's been at all the meetings. And again, I will say, he has just absolutely attacked everything we've asked him to do," Tomsula said. "He really has. He comes in early and works out. He's done all those things. Everything he's allowed to do, he's done and he's done it full-bore."
If the 49ers choose to activate Simpson next week, they'll have to make room on the 53-man roster. Tomsula did not disclose his team's plans for the wideout.
In regards to Kilgore and Smelter, the timetable for their returns is much foggier. Kilgore is currently on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform List and Smelter is on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury List. The 49ers have until after Week 11 to clear either or both players to begin practicing.
Kilgore underwent a second surgery this offseason on his left leg, which he broke on Oct. 19 of last season against the Denver Broncos. The center is no longer in a walking boot and has been working out on a side field during practices. With Kilgore sidelined, Marcus Martin has started each game this year at center.
"He's moving, he's running and he's pushing weight," Tomsula said. "So he's doing all those things. So my weekly updates on him are that he's progressing really well."
As for Smelter, the team's fourth-round draft pick from earlier this year is still recovering from the knee injury he sustained at Georgia Tech in 2014. The wide receiver is likely the player furthest away from a return.
"(The training staff) is really excited about what he's doing," Tomsula said. "I know he was on a week this week to amp-up. You know, they take him up and then they bring him down. So again, great reports on that."