49ers hopeful to be able to play opener despite smoky skies
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan remains hopeful the 49ers will be able to play their season opener against Arizona as scheduled despite poor air quality caused by wildfires in Northern California.
The Niners practiced Friday at their facility as scheduled with an Air Quality Index between 150 and 200. NFL rules call for postponing or moving a game if the AQI is expected to remain consistently above 200 at the stadium on the day of the game.
“If it gets to 200, that’s when the NFL will start really discussing what to do with the game,” Shanahan said. “I don’t think that’s my decision at all. I know it’s not, thank goodness. We’ll see what happens. Hopefully, it won’t get there. Hopefully, it will be safe, but got to see what the wind does.”
This isn’t the first time in recent years that the Niners have had to keep a close eye on the air quality. The 49ers and Raiders played home games in smoky air in 2018 that didn’t reach the 200 AQI threshold. Conditions got worse the following week, leading to the postponement of the Big Game between Stanford and California but the Niners were off that weekend and the Raiders were on the road.
The NFL has moved a game because of fires before, relocating a 2003 Monday night game between the Chargers and Miami from San Diego to Arizona.
“I never knew what a AQI index was. I never really got into that before,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “That’s been something very interesting that we’ve had to deal with out here. But the thing about it is, you really can’t get too concerned about it because there’s literally nothing you can do for it. There’s nothing that we can do to help lower that number or to change it.”
The fires have been an issue for much of the summer for the 49ers, who have frequently had to practice in smoky conditions. There was an orange glow in the sky Wednesday and the air quality has gotten worse the past two days but the team hasn’t missed any practice.
“It’s everywhere right now,” linebacker Kwon Alexander said. “It’s orange out here. It’s weird. Everything has been weird in 2020.”
The bad air conditions did keep one 49ers player out of practice with running back Tevin Coleman sitting out. Coleman has sickle cell trait, making him particularly sensitive to air pollution. He has missed practices this summer when the AQI has topped 150 but that won’t necessarily be a hard line Sunday.
“It’ll be a personal decision when he gets there,” Shanahan said. “It’s not just an automatic ‘no.’ Similar to when you play in high altitude and stuff like that, it’s not an automatic ‘no.’ That’s stuff you’ve got to discuss with the doctor and be comfortable with, dealing with oxygen tanks and things there can help, but talking to Tevin, I’ve been through some situations with him before, dealing with things like playing in Denver and stuff. Tevin will do what’s right for him, what’s safe.”
Coleman had a similar decision to make in 2016 when he played in the high altitude at Denver. He opted to play and gained 163 yards from scrimmage and scored a touchdown.
The 49ers will be without starting receiver Deebo Samuel (foot) and cornerback Jason Verrett (hamstring) for the opener.
Samuel has been out since breaking his foot during an informal workout with teammates in Tennessee in June. He missed all of training camp on the non-football injury list before being activated Saturday. Shanahan said he’s hopeful Samuel will be able to return next week.
Receiver Brandon Aiyuk (hamstring) and center Ben Garland (ankle) were limited in practice and are questionable for this week.
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