49ers might get creative to handle depth issues at tight end

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Dealing with a slew of injuries to tight ends, the San Francisco 49ers might have to look toward their defense for solutions in Sunday's game at Cleveland.

Coach Jim Tomsula said Friday that defensive ends Tony Jerod-Eddie and Quinton Dial got reps at tight end during the spring program, just in case they were needed.

After a series of injuries and trades, they might be against the Browns.

''We like tight end packages and we've always made sure that we've got guys to do that role,'' Tomsula said. ''We're always up to speed there.''

Jerod-Eddie, 25, who hasn't played the position since high school, joked this week he considers himself the best tight end on the roster. He stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 301 pounds.

''I was a beast in seven-on-sevens,'' Jerod-Eddie said. ''They would just split me out wide and throw me a jump ball.''

Tomsula said, ''I'm sure he'll tell you he's got the best hands on the team, best vertical, best 3-point shot. But, that's Tony.''

After trading Vernon Davis to Denver, the 49ers (4-8) lost Garrett Celek to injured reserve after he sustained a high ankle sprain Nov. 29 against the Cardinals.

''We never thought it would come to anything because we got 100 percent faith in the tight ends we have on the roster,'' Jerod-Eddie said. ''It was something that, just in case.''

Last Sunday in Chicago, third-year tight end Vance McDonald left the game early in the second quarter after taking a blow to the head, leaving rookie Blake Bell as the only healthy tight end on the roster.

McDonald was ruled out of Sunday's game after spending the week in the league's concussion protocol, making it likely the 49ers elevate Brian Leonhardt from the practice squad, who was signed in November after getting released from Cleveland.

Leonhardt, 25, spent last season with the Oakland Raiders, where he made 12 appearances in three starts working under interim coach Tony Sporano, who became the 49ers tight end coach this season.

''When you play a full season and you get released and spend some time on practice squads, it is a roller coaster,'' Leonhardt said. ''In the same sense, you got to attack it with the right mind set.''

In training camp, the 49ers believed tight end was one of their deepest positions. They had eight on the 90-man roster, allowing them to trade reserves Derek Carrier to Washington for a fifth-round pick and Asante Cleveland to New England for offensive lineman Jordan Devey in August.

Before the start of the regular season, rookie Rory Anderson was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury and Xavier Grimble was released, leaving Davis, Celek, McDonald and Bell on the opening day roster.

Another option to get time as a blocking tight end is center Daniel Kilgore, who played six snaps in that capacity during an overtime win in Chicago. It was Kilgore's first game back in over a year after having two surgeries to repair a broken lower leg.

The initial plan, Tomsula said, was to have Kilgore rotate in at center with starter Marcus Martin. But that plan was derailed when McDonald was forced out of the game with a concussion, forcing Kilgore to block on the edge.

''You don't go from zero to 100 reps,'' Tomsula said. ''That was the idea last week and then when we needed him to play at the tight end spot, obviously he's a guy that knows it, did it. Boom.''