Any 49ers fans dreaming of a triumphant return by Terrell Owens will be disappointed. Jim Harbaugh today said the team probably would fill its opening at receiver by promoting a receiver from its practice squad. One of those receivers, John Matthews, said the job would go to the other one, Joe Hastings.
"I think Joe's the guy who's the next man up," said Matthews. Hastings, meanwhile, evaded reporters by saying he had to go to a meeting (which probably is revealing in itself.)
Promoting Hastings makes perfect sense on a Harbaugh-run team that values hard work, team unity and camaraderie. Hastings, who went undrafted out of Washburn University in April, has become a favorite of the coaching staff and players for his toughness and pluck.
Hastings often portrays the opponent's top receiver in practice to give the starting defense a simulation of what they'll face. He's been Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Philadelphia's Jeremy Maclin among others, and he's been named the team's "practice player of the week" several times.
Hastings also was one of several wideouts who worked out for the 49ers after Joshua Morgan broke his leg Oct. 9. The job eventually went to Brett Swain, but it was Hastings who won an end-of-practice race among the group, which also included veterans T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Brian Finneran and Chris Chambers.
The 49ers this season have treated practice squad players as if they are members of the 53-man roster. They attend all meetings and go on the road with the team, something that hadn't been done in previous years here. "The only thing we don't do is play in the games," practice squad tight end Konrad Reuland said. "I have to pinch myself sometimes to remind myself that I'm not on the 53-man roster."
Alex Smith, in fact, warms up with Hastings before every game. "I really feel that their development is so much better because of that," Smith said today. "Looking back, it's kind of a no-brainer way of doing it."
If Hastings is elevated to the active roster, the 49ers wouldn't have to make that move until Saturday. They also could make an additional move early next week when Delanie Walker's prognosis becomes more clear. Teammates today said that Walker had surgery to wire shut his broken jaw and that Walker is on a liquid diet.
Neither Kyle Williams (concussion) nor Ted Ginn (ankle) were on hand for the start of practice. Patrick Willis was in uniform and practicing with the linebackers.
-- Matt Barrows