The preseason is the NFL’s necessary evil, the part of its calendar when rigorous preparation for the regular season is counter-balanced by significant caution.
There is a reason why the league has been discussing the option of cutting the schedule of preseason games from four to two. That trims in half the opportunity for important players to suffer injuries that might impact their seasons.
“You absolutely don’t need four preseason games,” San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told the media on Thursday. “I’d rather have zero than four, preferably I’d like two. One to evaluate the people trying to make the team and then just one to knock a little rust off.”
On the day the league reveled in the debut of quarterbacks Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones and Dwayne Haskins, the 49ers were ruminating about what to do after finding out rookie defensive end Nick Bosa had suffered a significant high ankle sprain.
Remember, Bosa was the second player taken in the 2019 Draft and the 49ers were looking forward to teaming him with free agent signing Dee Ford to help enhance their pass rush.
Now they must wait until the start of the season, at the earliest, because Bosa will not be able to play in the preseason.
“It’s a significant ankle sprain, and there’s that dreaded high-ankle sprain – he doesn’t have a full-blown one – but it has some components of that,” Lynch told KNBR in San Francisco. “As for timing, I think what we’re comfortable saying – and a lot is going to happen here with kind of the follow-up. … they’ve got the scans. … it’s safe to say we won’t see him in the preseason and then we’re going to be very prudent.”
Lynch and Shanahan seem confident Bosa will be ready for the Sept. 8 opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“We’re hoping for Week 1. We think he has a good chance for it, but can’t guarantee that,” said Shanahan.
High ankle sprains can be notoriously tricky, so no one can be certain until they see Bosa on the field again.
“We want him right,” Lynch said. “We’re gonna do what’s in the best interest and trust the medical staff on that. And trust Nick. We’ll see where that goes. He’s a game-changing type player, everything we hoped and expected and we have to get him right for this season.”
Bosa suffered the right ankle injury earlier this week on a running play in an 11-on-11 drill.
“I believe there are three components to a high ankle sprain, which makes it an official high ankle sprain,” Shanahan said. “But he does not show all three of them.”
Lynch described the circumstances as “a big human being” falling on him.
“He wants to come back tomorrow, but he had an over-300-pound man land on his leg and it was very fortunate that we didn’t lose him for the year,” said Shanahan.
Of course, injuries happen all the time in the NFL. The only way to bubble-wrap a player is to keep him on the sidelines. But in Bosa’s case, the 49ers drew a deeper breath because of how injury prone he seems to be.
Bosa, who tore an ACL as a senior in high school, couldn’t play most of the 2018 season because of a core muscle problem suffered in the third game. In fact, one of the big reasons Bosa decided to opt for the draft was to protect himself from impacting his draft status by re-injuring himself as a senior in 2019.
Bosa then injured a hamstring in his second spring practice and was out for the majority of the 49ers offseason program. Despite all the evidence, Lynch doesn’t feel Bosa might be cursed.
“We don’t feel he is injury prone,” Lynch said. “Yesterday, he had a big human being fall on his legs while he was engaged with someone else. So, some of those things, that’s football, you can’t prevent that. We’re thrilled with what we have in Nick Bosa. We’re gonna get him right and he’ll be a great player for a long time in this league.”
Camp observers say Bosa had looked great and, as expected, was getting most of his work with the first unit.
“The great thing I can tell you about Nick Bosa is he’s been dominating practice out here on a daily basis,” Lynch said.
San Francisco is already without Ford, who they signed away from the Kansas City Chiefs in the offseason. Ford has knee tendonitis.
“Dee is fine,” Lynch said. “He’s kind of done his week down, and now it’s back to ramping him back up. He should be ready, I believe, [for] Kansas City [in] Week 3 of preseason. Whether we’ll put him out there or not, I’m not sure, but he’ll be back practicing then.”