49ers’ wide receivers relish chance to step up in Deebo Samuel’s absence

The 49ers will need to plan for at least the next three games without Deebo Samuel, and Kyle Shanahan is confident that the wide receivers group will step up in the absence of the All-Pro injury.

Shanahan was relieved that Samuel suffered a less serious ankle sprain and MCL injury than originally thought. The “wide back” is expected to be out of action for “three-ish” weeks, which means he could return for Week 18 when the 49ers host Arizona Cardinals in the regular-season finale.

Until then Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud and Danny Gray will need to fill the void.

“I think the other guys are more than ready,” Shanahan said Tuesday. “I think those guys love the opportunity. They’re always wanting to be out there more. They’re mad I’m not in five wides every play, so those guys relish this.”

The 49ers’ group of wideouts had to step up without both Samuel and Jennings in Week 8 when both were dealing with hamstring injuries. Aiyuk was Jimmy Garoppolo’s top receiver, hauling in all six of his targets for 81 yards and a touchdown reception.

Christian McCaffrey also was a huge part of the offense’s dominance over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8, throwing a touchdown pass, catching a touchdown reception and rushing for a touchdown.

“I know they did a hell of a job versus the Rams,” Shanahan said. “Even that week we thought we were going to get Jauan, we ended up not getting him towards the end of the week and a number of guys had to step up, so our guys will be ready on Thursday.”

Gray finally caught his first pass as an NFL wide receiver in Week 14 and Shanahan expects to see more of that from the rookie. Shanahan has previously spoken about the need of the Southern Methodist product to be more consistent and it seems, Gray has been progressing.

“I think Danny has gotten the urgency that he’s had, he has really been picking it up here in these last six weeks,” Shanahan said. “His play has gotten a lot better, so we felt it’s a matter of time where he can help us out there and he’s doing things the right way and he’s gone in the game a hair more.”

The 49ers also could look to work in McCloud in a similar fashion as Samuel. While McCloud is not the same body-type as Samuel, the five-year NFL veteran plays as if he is. A standout on special teams, the 26-year-old is ready for a bigger role.

“Yeah, you can use them similarly,” Shanahan said. “They’re definitely different bodies, but don’t tell Ray-Ray that. He gets extremely offended. If you put Deebo in any run and you tell him that he can only do these, but not that one, you’re going to have to prepare or make time for an hour meeting with him later, because he’s going to convince you otherwise.

“And that’s why he has been such a good football player his whole career. Ray-Ray is a bulldog out there and he doesn’t think about his size.”

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Samuel is hard to replace, but Shanahan is confident the 49ers have the personnel to hold down the fort for a few weeks.

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