Hurting Samuel practices, brings ‘juice’ to Niners


SANTA CLARA, Calif. — San Francisco 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel on Thursday took another step toward playing in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the Detroit Lions.

After missing Wednesday’s practice because of a left shoulder injury suffered in last week’s win against the Green Bay Packers, Samuel was a limited participant in Thursday’s session. That’s no small thing given that the Thursday practice is always the most strenuous for the 49ers.

Samuel’s return put a little extra pep in the Niners’ step.

“It’s awesome,” running back Christian McCaffrey said. “Anytime he’s out there, he brings an extra set of juice that it’s hard to mimic without him.”

Samuel participated as he normally would during the portion of practice open to the media, stretching and later catching passes from Niners quarterback Brock Purdy during receiver and running back drills.

If he was dealing with any pain, it wasn’t apparent to observers.

“Deebo is always great,” tight end George Kittle said. “Just excited for him to be out there. He’s just such a huge part of our offense and everything that we do. And just his energy itself is infectious and he gets guys going and gets them confident. … Very excited to have Deebo out there. He looks great.”

It was the latest sign of progress for Samuel, who was hurt while battling for extra yards after a reception with 5:35 left in the opening quarter of last week’s NFC divisional round win.

After the play, Samuel stayed on the ground as Niners medical staff rushed to help. He was initially evaluated for a concussion after a call from the spotters in the booth but was quickly cleared. He briefly returned to the game before heading to the locker room just before halftime. He was ruled out at the start of the third quarter.

Further testing on Samuel’s shoulder Sunday and Monday showed he did not have a hairline fracture, which offered hope that he’d be able to play this week if the pain began to subside.

Samuel missed nearly three full games — with the 49ers going 0-3 over that span — after suffering a similar-looking injury against the Cleveland Browns in Week 6. He returned for the Week 10 meeting against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

His versatility is one of the keys to the Niners’ offense, which averaged 7.1 yards per play with Samuel on the field this season and 5.7 without him.

Fellow receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who is Samuel’s close friend, said he expects Samuel to play against the Lions.

“I do, personally,” Aiyuk said. “But just continue to pray for him that he can get better throughout the week and be out there with us to finish the job.”

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