SANTA CLARA – Ross Dwelley’s biggest play as a 49er might come later today — it being National Tight Ends Day and all.
“That’s exciting to go out and represent our position,” Dwelley said Friday. “I like how it started with something small, saw it grow and now it’s an actual day people get hyped for.”
Dwelley, indeed, is hyped.
He’ll be the 49ers’ top tight end when they host the Indianapolis Colts, seeing how George Kittle will miss his second of at least three games on injured reserve (calf).
Kittle, along with the now-retired Garrett Celek, helped inspire National Tight Ends Day, a moniker Jimmy Garoppolo actually created in 2018 and one that’s spawned into an annual NFL tradition on the fourth Sunday of every October.
Dwelley started that 2018 season on the 49ers’ practice squad as an undrafted rookie. He’s ready more than ever to make an impact, and one is urgently needed from anyone to pull the 49ers (2-3) out of a three-game skid.
“Getting in there, feeling the speed of the game, and having been lucky to stay healthy and practice each week, that all gives you confidence,” Dwelley said.
Still, Dwelley has only three catches for 46 yards this season, starting with a touchdown in the 49ers’ last home game, a loss three weeks ago to Seattle.
He appeared open last game at the goal line when Trey Lance tried in vain to run for a fourth-down touchdown. “I thought I was more open than I was,” Dwelley countered. “He was way out in front and had already made up his mind he was going to run it.”
Short-yardage targets could come his way today if the rain and wind wreak havoc on Garoppolo’s passing potential. If Dwelley must stay in to block for a run-oriented attack, he feels stronger to do so, courtesy of offseason workouts in San Diego (and at Tight End University that Kittle co-hosted in Nashville in June).
Yes, Dwelley is ready and willing to serve as Kittle’s stunt double, as was the case eight games last year.
So what does coach Kyle Shanahan want to see from Dwelley?
“Ross has been a very dependable guy for us,” Shanahan said. “I wouldn’t ask anybody to come in and just replace Kittle. I want Ross to go in and do his job and that’s what he’s been very effective at for us.”
Dwelley says he can be a “great” mudder today, if needed. That may sound surprising from someone who played in the climate-friendly locales of Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills and the University of San Diego.
The 49ers’ rain-soaked win at Washington two years ago featured the worst conditions Dwelley said he’s ever endured, and the runner-up was USD’s 2016 playoff win at Cal Poly, when he had six catches for 73 yards in “the biggest game in school history.”
If the 49ers’ offensive starters are announced pregame and Dwelley is one of them, that would be only the second time in his career he’s taken the field with such pomp and circumstance. The first time went pretty well: he scored the first two touchdowns of his career (a third was nullified by penalty) in a 2019 win over Arizona.
That ranks as Dwelley’s best game, and his best plays, to him, were either a forced fumble on punt coverage a month later against Atlanta, or a third-and-9 conversion that sealed a 49ers’ win at Arizona on Halloween.
Dwelley’s second effort finished off that 11-yard, third-down catch against the Cardinals, and it was evident afterward how meaningful that coming-of-age moment was when he discussed it in the locker room.
Even now, Dwelley says of that play: “That iced the game. That was sick.”
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) November 1, 2019
This season, he’s only been targeted three times, and caught all three.
“What we ask Ross to do, he does it a very high level and he does it consistently,” Shanahan added. “I’m on Ross to do what we ask him to do, and be efficient at it. And if he does, he gives us a chance to win.”
The 49ers’ other tight ends today are Charlie Woerner and practice-squad call-up Tanner Hudson.
Dwelley’s most outspoken supporter is Kittle.
“Ross the boss,” Kittle referred to Dwelley in training camp. “He’s going to do the same thing he always does: he’s going to bring high energy, and he’s going to catch everything you throw his way, and he’s able to do anything.
“I appreciate that because he’s consistently good every day, and when you give him a chance, he’s great.”
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Author: Cam Inman