Rookie Colton McKivitz faces Aaron Donald on Sunday

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From injuries to the pandemic, the 49ers have faced plenty of challenges without a full complement of their best players this year. On Sunday, a rookie offensive lineman for the 49ers will be facing one of the best defensive linemen in football history.

Colton McKivitiz, a fifth-round pick from West Virginia, will replace Tom Compton (concussion) at right guard on Sunday against the Rams.

Quarterback Nick Mullens has faith in the rookie when it comes to handling Aaron Donald.

“Colton’s awesome,” Mullens told reporters on Friday. “First, I mean, I view him as a good ol’ boy from West Virginia. And that’s kind of, it’s kind of the type of guy you want up front, just nasty, hard-nose grinders, and that’s what Colton is. He’s tall, long athletic and does a great job for us. As a rookie he has assumed his role very well, just working hard every day and getting better. And that’s what Colton does. And so, I’m pumped to join the huddle with him and I’m pumped for him. First career start, it’s going to be awesome.”

McKivitz may use a different word than “awesome” during or after the experience of trying to contain Donald.

Separately on Friday, coach Kyle Shanahan explained that the 49ers initially were eyeballing McKivitz as a potential replacement for Joe Staley at left tackle, as the 2020 draft unfolded.

“We thought he’d [go] around second, third [round],” Shanahan told reporters. “We didn’t think he’d get to the fourth and his tackle tape was good with where we thought he’d go in those rounds, but we weren’t sure if he’d be exactly a tackle or a guard. So then the fact that we were able to get Trent [Williams] here and stuff, it made us throw [McKivitz] at guard right away. We’ll see how it goes into next year and where he’s needed the most, but he’s gotten a lot of work at guard here since he got here. I thought he’s done a good job, that’s why we’ve been rotating him and Compton the last couple of weeks. . . . In his two games that he’s been playing, I think he’s gotten better each game and he’s got a big challenge going against a pretty good guy this week, but I know he’ll be up for the challenge.”

So at a time when Pitt and West Virginia no longer play every year, the rivalry sort of gets renewed when McKivitz the Mountaineer faces Donald, who played at Pitt.

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