SANTA CLARA, Calif. - After suffering a fracture in his lower leg midway through the 2014 season, 49ers starting center Daniel Kilgore will return to practice this week for the first time since the injury. Head coach Jim Tomsula announced Monday the team would be opening his 21-day practice window.
That means Kilgore can be added to the active roster at any point over the next three weeks. He said the game Nov. 29 against the Cardinals will likely mark his return to the field.
"Not this week (against Seattle), maybe next week," Kilgore said. "Again, we’ll go out there and see how it feels. I’ve said this before. The biggest thing for me would be the conditioning part. My ankle, leg, it all feels stable. And we’ll go out there and test it out and see how bad out of shape I really am."
Kilgore said he's back to squatting 500 pounds on the ankle, despite undergoing two surgeries since suffering the injury October 2014 in a loss to the Denver Broncos.
The latest procedure came in mid-June, which ultimately sidelined him for training camp after he initially expected to be back with the team to start the season.
"There was some gunk, I guess, in the break of the fibula that was blocking the bone growth," Kilgore said. "(Doctors) went in to replace the hardware and remove the gunk, do a bone transfer from the hip to inject in that break of the fibula. At the same time, went to go clean the ankle. They found out (I) had something loose in the ankle too. That was unexpected. That’s what prolonged it. But, at the same time, stuff happens, and it’s fixed now."
The hardware Kilgore mentioned is a plate and 12 screws that will remain in his leg permanently.
In Kilgore's absence, second-year player Marcus Martin has started each game center, earning some of Pro Football Focus' lowest grades among starters in the NFL. His play has been emblematic of the line's struggle as a whole.
"Not to single anybody out, but guys have played good one game, and the next week they don’t play the best," Kilgore said. "We played good enough to win, that’s for sure. We’ll see how the bye week helped us and how we can turn things around after that bye week."
At 3-6, the 49ers face the tough task of traveling to play the Seahawks this week, who continue to boast one of the NFL's premier defenses despite falling to 4-5 with a loss to Arizona Sunday night.
Tomsula indicated he plans on continuing to tinker with the offensive line, which could include more playing time for Andrew Tiller at right guard, who received more snaps than Jordan Devey for the first time this season in the win over the Falcons.
"We're looking at combinations," Tomsula reiterated Monday. "I've said it with the offensive line: it's the sum of the parts. We're getting the guys together and working together to see where we can get the best results."
Tomsula also announced the team was opening the practice window of rookie receiver DeAndre Smelter, who suffered an ACL tear during his final collegiate season at Georgia Tech.
Smelter (6-2, 227) is a big-bodied target with enormous hands, who has been running routes and catching passes on the side field during practice for much of the season.
Unlike Kilgore, Smelter's roster status remains up in the air. If he isn't added to the roster during the 21-day window, he must go on injured reserve, making him ineligible to play this season.
"I don't know what the full expection (is)," Tomsula said. "Let's get him out, let's get him running around and let's see where we're at. So, in terms of a definite expectation right now, I don't want to give you one because we just want to get (the practice window) open. He's cleared through everything (medically). We're going to get it open and get him out there and see where we're at."
Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.
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