Patrick Willis has a "slight fracture" in his right hand, ESPN reported this morning, making this the fourth time the perennial pro bowler will be wearing a cast on his right hand since his junior season at Ole Miss.
Willis evidently injured the hand during perhaps the most violent drill in training-camp, a one-on-one pass-blocking drill against fullback Bruce Miller on Wednesday afternoon. He is not expected to miss any time during the regular season, which is five and a half weeks away. He wore a cast over the right hand during his previous injuries.
He missed zero games and led the league in tackles while playing with a bulky cast over his hand in 2007. The club-like cast caught the eye of then-Bengals receiver Chad Johnson, who gave Willis the nickname Bam Bam. In 2010, Willis broke a bone in the same hand. Though that fracture was more serious, Willis again played with a bandaged hand until the team was out of playoff contention. He sat out the final game of the season but still finished 10th in the NFL in tackles. He broke a finger in the hand in 2005.
Willis was prominent during the 49ers' recent spring practices in that he was on the field every chance he could. While other veterans sat out practices or recovered from 2012 injuries, Willis said his goal was to continue to improve, and he was called upon by Jim Harbaugh to give a speech to the team at the end of the June minicamp.
With Willis out, Michael Wilhoite will take over at an inside linebacker spot opposite NaVorro Bowman. Wilhoite made a splash on special teams late last season and he drew praise from Willis early in training camp. Bowman also has missed time recently with a groin injury. Nate Stupar has filled in for him, and the team also drafted good-looking rookie Nick Moody and recently signed San Jose State's Travis Johnson to play the position.
The 49ers have suffered a number of injuries -- some serious, some not -- in the first six practices of training camp. The last four have been fully-padded sessions. Another inside linebacker, Darius Fleming, suffered a torn ACL this week while changing directions covering a kickoff. There was no contact on the play. Receiver Michael Crabtree's torn Achilles' tendon on May 21 also occurred without contact, Jim Harbaugh said.
The 49ers practiced Wednesday without starting center Jonathan Goodwin, starting outside linebacker Aldon Smith and receivers Kyle Williams, A.J. Jenkins and Kassim Osgood. All of them presumably suffered injuries in training camp.
One note about the 49ers' Week 1 opponent, Green Bay: Willis played a season-low 68 percent of the 49ers' defensive snaps in Week 1 against the Packers last year. When the Packers brought out four WRs - or put receiver Randall Cobb in the backfield - the 49ers responded with four cornerbacks. Perrish Cox came into the game and, more often than not, Willis went out of the game. San Francisco also did this in the playoff game against the Packers, though not as much. He played 84 percent of the snaps.
Willis typically plays 100 percent of the 49ers' snaps. All of which is to say: If Willis still is recovering from his broken hand on Sept. 8, it can be considered good timing. He might not play as many snaps as he will the following week against Seattle. Also, his young, inexperienced backups will get a lot more practice snaps this summer. And even more important: Willis is unlikely to be exposed to an even more serious injury.
-- Matt Barrows