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December 30, 2011
Relative unknowns to have big roles on Sunday


After receiver Joshua Morgan broke his leg Oct. 9, the 49ers held a tryout for his replacement that included veterans T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Brian Finneran, Chris Chambers and Brett Swain. They threw practice squadder Joe Hastings into the mix as well.

At the end of the session, the coaches lined the group up and had them race in a 40-yard dash. Hastings came in first; Swain finished second. Now both are expected to have roles - perhaps big ones - in Sunday's season finale against the Rams.

Hastings is likely to be elevated from the practice squad to the active roster Saturday while Swain, who was signed in October, could start at wideout depending on the health of Ted Ginn and Kyle Williams. Coach Jim Harbaugh sounded more optimistic about Ginn's ankle on Friday than he did Williams, who is recovering from a concussion.

"Ted had a good workout (Friday)," Harbaugh said. "We didn't practice him. We held him out. But he's coming along very well, so we'll see how he responds to that, see how he looks tomorrow."

Ginn and Williams also are the 49ers' primary return men. If neither plays Sunday, safety Reggie Smith would handle punt returns. Either running back Kendall Hunter or cornerback Chris Culliver would handle kick returns.

Swain saw action last year in Green Bay after a number of Packers receivers went down with injuries late in the season. He started a Week 15 game against the Patriots and finished the season with six catches for 72 yards.

Despite the fact that several notable veterans were on hand for the October tryout, Swain said he quickly determined that the hard-working Hastings would be his chief competition.

"I think that's what it came down to - who was going to outwork each other," Swain recalled. "And Joe was that guy that I had my sights on. This guy's going to work hard. He's going to run his routes hard, he's going to try to be technically good at everything he does. I saw that when I first met him. And when we raced, it was all out."

At tight end, meanwhile, Justin Peelle will play in place of Delanie Walker, who was ruled out of Sunday's game with a broken jaw. Peelle has just one catch on the season but that is due mainly to his role this season as a tight end who has entered games as a blocker. He's had at least 10 receptions in the last eight seasons.

Peelle, 32, also is one of the few 49ers with playoff experience. "I'm 0-3," Peelle said sheepishly. "I've been three times, which is good, but I haven't won one game yet. I'm hoping to change that this year. We will change that this year."

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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