SANTA CLARA — Jimmy Garoppolo's sprained thumb will not require surgery despite a "fleck" of bone chipping off with a torn ligament, and he still has a chance to play Sunday against Houston, as well as their regular-season finale Jan. 9 at the Los Angeles Rams, coach Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday.
Garoppolo still must test his grip before Wednesday's practice and throw for the first time since playing through the thumb injury in Thursday night's loss at Tennessee.
"Christmas made it feel a little better, I'll say," Garoppolo said Wednesday on a video conference with reporters. "I mean, it's a torn ligament, though, so it is what it is. The pain is not going anywhere, and I know what that feels like. It's about being confident and doing what I normally do with the football."
"We'll see where it gets us but I feel good right now with it."
That said, Trey Lance is preparing as usual, and that is to be ready if needed to start for the 49ers (8-7) against the Houston Texans (4-11) with a chance to clinch a NFC wild-card playoff berth.
"He's excited because it's early in the week and he has a possibility of starting and he gets to definitely start at practice today," Shanahan said of Lance. "So I know he's excited about that, but his routine is the same."
To help matters while Garoppolo recovers, the 49ers' practice squad added quarterback Tyler Bray, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears.
After saying Monday that Garoppolo did not fracture his thumb, Shanahan clarified that the veteran quarterback has a Grade III sprain that involved tearing the ulnar collateral ligament.
"I've been told he does not need surgery right now," Shanahan said. "To clear that up, (a sprain) is the way it was worded to me. He has a Grade III sprain. The reason they never mentioned to me a fracture is it doesn't have much to do with the sprain; it pulled off a fleck off of the bone."
Wednesday is typically the biggest practice of the week as game plans are installed. Garoppolo planned to "tack down" his thumb and be precautions in testing it.
Shanahan crediting adrenaline for helping Garoppolo push through the second-quarter injury to play the entirety of in Thursday night's 20-17 loss at Tennessee. Garoppolo said he "slowly adjusted" his throwing style to compensate, and he completed 5 of 7 passes for 91 yards on a game-tying touchdown drive in the final minutes.
How tough was that?
"Pretty difficult, if you can imagine not being able to use your thumb very much, the feel of the ball that you normally feel, can't really grip or throw it the same way," Garoppolo said.
Why not disclose the injury to reporters afterward?
"Multiple reasons. That's just not me," Garoppolo responded. "Even when I was on the sideline, I tried to be low key, though I told the trainers. I knew there were cameras and I'm not trying to put that (injury) out there. It's not about me. It's about the team. It's cliché but it's how I play."
"... As a quarterback, you're supposed to be out there. As a quarterback, it's my team and I'm supposed to be out there, and that's the mindset I've always had."
After Garoppolo's two interceptions and struggles against the Titans, criticism ensued from fans, including a Tweet that general manager John Lynch accidentally liked. Lynch subsequently apologized for his mishap, doing so on Twitter and in a conversation with Garoppolo.
"John's first-class, always has been and always will be. I'm sure he didn't do it on purpose," Garoppolo said. "Whatever social media mistake, stuff happens. I trust John and he's been nothing but good to me since I've been here. I don't see him changing anytime soon."
Lance hasn't thrown a pass since losing his only start Oct. 10 at Arizona. He has more carries (30, for 137 yards, one touchdown) than completions (25, out of 48 attempts, 354 yards, three touchdowns, one interception).
Shanahan said Lance is not putting in any extra work this week, adding: "He's been preparing like he's going to start every week. Developed a routine this year, with no difference as a backup or the starter."
Lance's lone start included 16 carries for 89 yards, plus eight hits and two sacks. A day later, Lance was diagnosed with a mild knee sprain, and when the 49ers emerged from their ensuing bye week, Garoppolo returned from a calf injury to take every meaningful start since then, yielding only to Lance for five mop-up snaps in a Nov. 21 win at Jacksonville.
RUNNING BACKS RETURN
Running back Elijah Mitchell (knee) is cleared for limited action at practice after missing the past three weeks.
Fellow rookie Trey Sermon (ankle) remains on injured reserve, but he was medically cleared to be activated for last game and the 49ers kept him down to go with others for special-teams purposes.
"I know Trey Sermon should be good to go this week and I'm hoping Elijah will," Shanahan said.
Jeff Wilson Jr. has started the past three games, rushing for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
EMERGENCY PUNTER SIGNED
With Mitch Wishnowsky on the COVID-19 list, the 49ers added two-year veteran Colby Wadman to the practice squad should Wishnowsky fail to be cleared before game time.
Wadman, 26, had a 44.5 gross punting average in 28 games in 2018-19 for the Denver Broncos. The 49ers got a close-up look at Wadman when practicing against Denver during training camp in 2019. A U.C. Davis product, Wadman punted six times for a 47.8 average against the 49ers at Levi's Stadium in 2018.
"We were in camp with him at Denver so we got a chance to be around him and really see him up close and personal for awhile," special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said. "He's punted in this stadium before. He's a pro's pro and he's got a good reputation."
As for Wishnowsky, Hightower sees no issues if he missed practice all week but is cleared to play on Sunday.
He'll be ready to go if he's available," Hightower said. "He's one of those guys where mentally nothing really bothers him. He's a stud in that way. I think he'll be fine."
Mark Nzeocha rejoined the 49ers on their practice squad, after appearing in 47 games the previous four seasons, mainly as a special-teams ace and backup linebacker.
Linebackers Dre Greenlaw (groin) and Azeez Al-Shaair (knee) remain out of practice, along with safety Talanoa Hufanga (knee) and defensive tackle Mo Hurst (calf).
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