A still sore Shaun Hill missed a second straight day of practice Thursday, and Mike Nolan said that the quarterback’s availability might be a game-day decision. Nolan also said he was leaning toward elevating Drew Olson from the practice squad.
Hill said his back improved a little from yesterday but he was still walking and moving gingerly and said the improvement would have to be more dramatic to allow him to play Sunday. Nolan said Hill didn’t have to practice at all this week in order to play against the Browns. If the doctors clear Hill to play and Hill says he’s ready, he will play.
If he can’t, Chris Weinke would start and Olson would back him up. The emergency quarterback would be Michael Robinson. Robinson injured his left – non-throwing – shoulder against the Bengals but said he should play against the Browns. He was limited in practice today.
Nolan said he did not know whether Larry Allen would play another season. He said Allen, 36, had an outstanding season a year ago. This year, Allen began slowly but has been play much better in recent weeks. Allen himself has not said whether he would return in 2008. “I know there’s gas in Larry’s tank,” Nolan said. “But there’s gas in BY’s tank, too. Some guys want to leave it in there.” By the way, some of us tried to corner Derek Smith to ask him whether he’ll be back. It was obvious Smith didn’t like the subject matter but he did say he wasn’t interested in retiring.
Patrick Willis is a shoe-in for defensive rookie of the year. The question is whether he’s been the best overall defensive player of the year. He’s played every snap this season despite breaking a bone in his hand and he leads the league in tackles. But Willis has two things going against him – he hasn’t grabbed a lot of turnovers and he plays for a bad team. That is, he might not get as much exposure as some other players. Who else could be the defensive MVP? How about San Diego’s Antonio Cromartie (10 INTs), Seattle’s Patrick Kerney (14.5 sacks), Houston’s Mario Williams (14 sacks) or Indy’s Bob Sanders (a ton of publicity)?
In a related note, fans voted Willis GMC Defensive Player of the Week for his 20-tackle performance against the Buccaneers Sunday. It's the second time Willis has gotten the award this season. After the season, five players will be nominated for GMC Defensive Player of the Year honors. Fans can vote for the winner on NFL.com throughout the month of January.
I spoke very briefly with taciturn defensive lineman Melvin Oliver, who was in the locker room today. Oliver tore his right ACL six months ago. He said he hopes to be able to re-join his teammates when they have their first minicamp in May.
-- Matt Barrows