SANTA CLARA — The 49ers are scrambling to remake their secondary.
They don’t know if cornerback Richard Sherman will be available for their next game. And they placed starting free safety Adrian Colbert on the Injured Reserve list Monday. Colbert has a high ankle sprain which will take between six and eight weeks to heal. He probably will not return this season, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Colbert injured his right ankle breaking up a pass Sunday during the 49ers 39-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
“He was having one of his better games,” Shanahan said Monday. “It had been a challenge for him the last few weeks. In this game, he covered sideline to sideline very well and was running and hitting. And he made a real good play when he got hurt.”
It was the first pass Colbert broke up all season. The Rams had the ball at their 40-yard line with 11:08 left in the third quarter. The 49ers were trailing 22-7 — they still were in the game. Colbert’s play mattered.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff faked a handoff and fired a deep pass up the left sideline to wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who was open. He had beaten 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.
Colbert did not react to the play-action fake. He kept his eyes on Goff, tracked his pass, sprinted toward the sideline and flew through the air toward the ball.
“Colbert tried to challenge the pass, go over the top,” Shanahan explained. “You want the corner (covering) there. Usually the (free safety) won’t show up, but Colbert did. He made a good play. Unfortunately, he got hurt.”
As Colbert flew, he collided with Witherspoon, spun 180 degrees in the air and landed awkwardly on his right leg, which twisted and crumpled under his body weight. He couldn’t walk off the field. The 49ers drove him to the locker room on a cart.
“It’s tough, but it’s part of football,” Shanahan said. “Colbert last year got his opportunity because a lot of guys went down. The second half of the year, we got to watch him grow and go through some trial and error. He ended up playing at a very high level and made us very excited about him going into this year. Now, Colbert going out will give more opportunities to other players. We hope some other guys step it up like Colbert did last year.”
The 49ers took Colbert in the seventh round of the 2017 draft. He started the final six games last season when Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt were injured, and recorded 32 tackles and five pass breakups — promising stats for a rookie.
But Colbert was much less productive this season. He started six of the 49ers’ first seven games and recorded 20 tackles and just one pass breakup. Shanahan called it a sophomore slump.
“I have seen a lot of them over my years,” Shanahan said. “Percentage-wise, they happen to a lot of people. I think you come in as a rookie and don’t really know what to expect. You’re just trying to survive and not get cut. Then, you start to gain some confidence that you can play in this league. You come back the next year, and you want to take it to the next level. You do a little bit more, you work more, you put a little bit more pressure on yourself and try to do extra and you end up forgetting what got you there.”