SANTA CLARA — The 49ers lost four starters and two backups in less than one half of a game that didn’t count.
The 49ers won the game against the Dallas Cowboys 24-21 Thursday night during the preseason opener at Levi’s Stadium. But the win didn’t matter. The injuries did.
Starting defensive end Solomon Thomas injured his head. Starting middle linebacker Malcolm Smith injured his hamstring. Starting outside linebacker Eli Harold injured his lower leg. Starting tight end George Kittle and backup running back Matt Breida injured their shoulders. And backup offensive tackle Garry Gilliam injured his head.
When 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke to the media after the game, he hadn’t yet received the official injury updates from the team’s medical staff. “Off the top of my head, I know Kittle and Breida (will be out) some time,” Shanahan said. “I’d be surprised if they’re around next week. And Solomon Thomas left with concussion symptoms early.”
Thomas’ injury looked the worst. He got hit in the helmet while rushing backup quarterback Cooper Rush with 4:21 left in the first quarter. Thomas fell face down on the grass and lay motionless for a minute. When he got up, he walked straight to the locker room and did not return.
The 49ers drafted Thomas with the third pick in the first round last year. He recorded only three sacks his rookie season, but seemed to improve his pass-rush technique during training camp. Before he injured his head Thursday night, he split a sack with defensive tackle DeForst Buckner. Buckner hit Cowboys starting quarterback Dak Prescott, spun him around and Thomas took him to the ground.
After Thomas left the game, Cassius Marsh replaced him in the starting lineup.
Thomas was the third 49ers player who got injured against Dallas. Smith was the first. He pulled his right hamstring during the Cowboys’ first drive and did not return. Backup Elijah Lee replaced him at middle linebacker. Smith missed all of last season with a chest injury and the first four days of training camp with a heel injury. He hasn’t played a full game since 2016.
Kittle injured his shoulder with 6:34 remaining in the first quarter. He was running deep down the middle of the field and was open when starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw a long pass two steps too far. Kittle dove for the ball, missed and landed on his right shoulder. As he jogged off the field, his arm hung limp at his side. He did not return to the game.
Breida injured himself with 3:21 remaining in the first quarter. He lowered his head to block a blitzing linebacker on third-and-12, and the linebacker hit Breida in the shoulder. He stayed on the ground for a minute, got up and did not return to the game.
The next injury occurred six seconds into the second quarter. That’s when Gilliam took a shot to the helmet. After sitting on the ground for a minute, he stumbled to his feet, walked to the locker room and did not return. Second-year offensive tackle Darrell Williams Jr. replaced Gilliam at left tackle for the second-string offense.
Finally, Harold injured himself covering a punt later in the second quarter.