If it were up to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Patrick Willis would play in Sunday's season finale against the Rams. "This is a game that we have to win, and if he's healthy enough to play he will play," Fangio said this afternoon.
Willis has taken part in the 49ers' last four practices - he's been characterized as 'limited' - including today's. Asked how Willis looked in recent sessions, Fangio said, "Good. He looks fine to me right now."
Of course, the decision isn't up to Fangio but rather head trainer Jeff Ferguson, who has taken a cautious approach with the star linebacker's hamstring injury. The 49ers also have a capable backup in Larry Grant, who has made big plays in each of the games in which he has filled in for Willis, including Saturday's sack and forced fumble against Tarvaris Jackson to preserve a win in Seattle.
The ideal scenario for the 49ers would have Willis start Sunday and then leave in the second half, not because he aggravated the injury but because the 49ers are ahead by a comfortable margin.
As was the case Wednesday, Willis, fullback Bruce Miller (knee), cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee) and cornerback Chris Culliver (knee) were limited in practice.
Neither Ted Ginn (ankle) nor Kyle Williams (concussion) practiced today, increasing the chances that the 49ers' starting wide receivers Sunday are the only healthy receivers on the active roster: Michael Crabtree and Brett Swain.
"It's hard to tell. I think there's a good chance of that," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said of a Crabtree-Swain lineup. "The way I look at it is, we've got 11 starters listed and 11 guys run out of the tunnel. ... We'll mix and match things pretty loosely."
Swain is no stranger to spot duty. He caught six catches for 72 yards last year for Green Bay, and he started a Week 15 game against the Patriots.
The 49ers practiced special teams today, and because reporters don't watch practice, we have no idea who handled the return roles with Ginn and Williams absent. However, the logical substitutes would be safety Reggie Smith on punt returns and running back Kendall Hunter on kickoff returns. Smith said he hasn't gotten any practice during the week once the regular season began - after all, he's a member of the coverage units - but that he does practice fielding punts before games.
-- Matt Barrows