49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

October 30, 2013
49ers waive WR Moore; spot opens for Manningham's return

The 49ers have reportedly waived wide receiver Marlon Moore today, which opens up a spot on San Francisco's 53-man roster that the team will most likely use to bring back injured receiver Mario Manningham.

The 49ers have until Nov. 6 to activate Manningham or place him on the season-ending injured reserve list. Manningham, who suffered a season-ending knee surgery last Dec. 23 against the Seattle Seahawks, is currently on the physically unable to perform list.

The 49ers (6-2) have a bye this Sunday and will return Nov. 10 to play the Carolina Panthers at Candlestick Park.

Moore, a Natomas High School graduate, played in six games this season and caught one pass.

October 28, 2013
49ers Week 8 highlight reel vs. Jaguars in London
October 27, 2013
Sharp -- some say, paranoid -- 49ers catch Jaguars napping


LONDON - The 49ers used powerful blocking, sound tackling and solid quarterback play to beat the Jaguars 42-10 on Sunday and increase their winning streak to five games. But don't discount paranoia when it comes to the team's winning formula, players said afterward.

"We have the most paranoid staff in the National Football League," safety Donte Whitner said. "We go over things so many times that when you go in the game you could do it in your sleep." Left tackle Joe Staley agreed. "I think it's great to play never (feeling) comfortable," he said. "We always think about every worst-case scenario beforehand."

The result is that neither jet lag nor the winless Jaguars could distract the 49ers in the run-up to the game. Not only have they bounced back from a two-game losing skid early in the season, they have now scored 30 or more points in five straight contests.

Games played in London have been marked by sloppy play due to wet weather, soggy field conditions and, in the case of west-coast teams, a difference of eight time zones. The 49ers, however, were sharp from the outset, driving eight plays - including a 4th-and-one conversion - before Frank Gore burst through the belly of the Jacksonville defense for a 19-yard touchdown.

"The players were dialed in, did a great job in practice and off the practice field in their free time," Jim Harbaugh said. "We were real good. Curfews were 100 percent each night. Good team."

In fact, it was the 49ers who caught the Jaguars napping in the first quarter.

October 27, 2013
49ers notes: Willis likes mid-season bye; Williams struggles; Harbaugh has Olympic moment

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LONDON - Patrick Willis couldn't remember whether he forced a fourth-quarter fumble with his right or left hand - and that's a positive sign for the 49ers linebacker.

Willis had to go to his left hand when he caused a game-altering fumble against the Cardinals in Week 6 because his right hand still was recovering from a broken bone that cost him most of training camp and the entire preseason. "It's starting to get a lot better," Willis said of the hand. "I was able to lift with it this week and put up a little weight."

On Sunday he hit Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis after a short gain, knocking the ball free in the process. It was scooped up by outside linebacker Dan Skuta, who had dropped into coverage on the play. Skuta weaved through would-be tacklers - and nicely set up his blockers - on his way to a 33-yard touchdown. The 49ers have forced at least one turnover in all but one game this season, and they have converted three of the takeaways - two on defense, one on special teams - into touchdowns.

Skuta said he had "a couple of picks in college, but that was the first run with the ball in a long time." How long had it been since he scored a touchdown? His senior year in high school, Skuta said.

Meanwhile, the silver lining to having to travel 6,000 miles for a game is that the 49ers will get their bye at the midpoint of the season. Willis said it's here at a perfect time. "It's a good time for our team, for guys who are on the verge of coming back, for guys who are dealing with some injuries, for guys to rest their body a little bit," he said.

The 49ers reported no injuries from the game.

Williams replaced - Kyle Williams, who had a mistake-filled first half on kick returns, didn't get a chance to make amends in the second half. Following the Jaguars' only touchdown of the game, tailback Anthony Dixon was waiting in the end zone, and he returned the kickoff to the Jacksonville 46-yard line. The field position set up the 49ers' fifth touchdown of the game, a two-yard run by Frank Gore.

October 27, 2013
Halftime: 49ers are rolling, Jaguars are rubbish


LONDON - The only competition so far in this game? Who will finish with more rushing yards, Colin Kaepernick or Frank Gore?

The 49ers quarterback is leading at the moment - 55 yards to Gore's 53 - as the 49ers ran away with the first half and lead the winless Jaguars, the "home" team at Wembley Stadium, 28-3.

Kaepernick, who scored his first rushing touchdown last week against Tennessee, scored two more in the first half. He also had a nice, touch-pass touchdown to Vernon Davis from the shadow of the goal line. Davis leads all pass catchers with three receptions for 52 yards.

Jacksonville engineered a field-goal drive at the end of the half and will have the opening possession when the third quarter begins.But they mostly have played to their 0-7 record.

On the first 49ers' offensive drive, they failed to cover fullback Bruce Miller at the sideline. Kaepernick zipped a quick pass to him, and Miller ran for a 43-yard gain.That led to a a 19-yard touchdown run by Gore, who also had an excellent block on Kaepernick's 12-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

Punter Andy Lee only has made one appearance as the 49ers have converted five of seven third-down attempts. One of their third-down failures resulted in a short fourth-down conversion.

The only 49er who seems to be struggling is receiver/returner Kyle Williams. He flubbed a punt and a kickoff, and also a fielded a kickoff in the corner of the end zone before running out of bounds at the 3-yard line. Williams also has one carry for 10 yards and one catch for seven yards.

-- Matt Barrows

October 27, 2013
Report: Anthony Dixon on trading block

LONDON -- The 49ers are dangling running back Anthony Dixon as trade bait, according to NFL.com. Dixon's main role is on special teams, but he also has served as an effective short-yardage runner this season, scoring two touchdowns. He ranks third on a 49ers special teams ranking composed by coaches.

A sixth-round draft pick in 2010, Dixon is making only $630,000, which makes him affordable for a team seeking a runner. Meanwhile, the 49ers have a glut of running backs. LaMichael James was inactive for the third straight week today. Additionally, they have a promising young runner, Jewel Hampton, on the practice squad and another, rookie Marcus Lattimore, on the non-football injury list.

The NFL's trade deadline is Tuesday.

-- Matt Barrows

October 27, 2013
49ers pregame: RB James, WR Baldwin on today's inactive list

LONDON -- LaMichael James will be inactive for the third straight game this season as the 49ers take on the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium. So will receiver Jon Baldwin, who has been battling an undisclosed illness for the last week and a half. Baldwin was listed as questionable on the team's injury report.

With Quinton Patton still coming back from a broken foot suffered Week 4, that means the team's wide receivers will be: Anquan Boldin, Kyle Williams, Marlon Moore and Kassim Osgood.

The 49ers' defensive line was banged up for last week's win over the Titans but seems better repaired this week. Justin Smith (shoulder), Ray McDonald (biceps) and Glenn Dorsey (hamstring) were limited in practice Thursday and Friday and all three will start.

General manager Trent Baalke, meanwhile, described James as a "key" player on Friday and insisted there were no plans to trade James, a second-round pick a year ago. However, he missed the first three games of the season with a knee injury and has been a healthy scratch the last three. James has played in two games this season and has seven carries for 31 yards.

49ers inactives
QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson
WR Quinton Patton
RB LaMichael James
CB Nnamdi Asomugha
LB Jermaine Cunningham
G Joe Looney
WR Jon Baldwin

For the Jaguars, Chad Henne will start at quarterback for Blaine Gabbert. Receiver Justin Blackmon, who has been dealing with a hamstring injury, will play.

Jaguars inactives
QB Ricky Stanzi
WR Stephen Burton
CB Jamell Fleming
G Jacques McClendon
OT DeMarcus Love
WR Stephen Williams
DT Abry Jones.

-- Matt Barrows

October 27, 2013
49ers Q&A: What's Nnamdi Asomugha's fate?

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Franco Mazzoli ?@MazzoliFranco
Q: Can you see the #49ers getting rid of Nnamdi Asomugha when Eric Wright will be ready to play?

A: Yes, that seems to be the plan. It's not that Asomugha played poorly when he was being used earlier this year. It's that he's 32 and in the final year of his deal. The 49ers must look to the future at the position, and they want to see what Wright, 28, can do to help them determine the future at the position.

Wright likely will be activated during or just after the bye. Nov. 4 is the last day to do so. At that point, they must make a corresponding roster move. If Asomugha indeed is cut, the Saints might be the team that picks him up. Asomugha is inactive today. He's been a healthy scratch the last three weeks.

Teddy Verdun ?@TeddyVerdun
Q: Why take time & resources to help Wright get back into football when there is no guarantee he will resign?

A: Yes, no guarantees. But Wright is from San Francisco and described playing for the 49ers as a dream come true earlier this month. That is, they should at least have a slight edge in re-signing him if he reaches free agency. They also have the opportunity to extend his contract before March if they like what they see. Trent Baalke's been a fan for some time ...

El Lobo ?@SFGLobo
Q: should the Niners wait until after the bye week to activate Manningham, even if he's ready?

A: Remember - just because he's active doesn't mean he will play. Seven players are not in uniform for every game, after all. Having said that, the 49ers must have thought Manningham was fully recovered from his knee injury when they allowed him to start practicing with the team nearly two weeks ago. They could have done so at any point until Week 11. That they did it on the early end means they are confident in Manningham's knee.

Ray ?@Mr_Pajas
Q: I'm moving to London next year for the Air Force. Any good "American Football Sports Bars" you hear of? Lol

A: Sports Cafe in Piccadilly Circus. Actually, I was seeing American sports - UCLA-Oregon, for instance - on a lot of televisions. You should not have a problem getting your fix. You just may have to stay up late.

Jason McCord ?@jasondmccord
Q: Favorite London tourist site?

A: Hyde Park. Walked there every morning. Huge, gorgeous and well-used by the populace. What a city park should be.

-- Matt Barrows

October 26, 2013
Joe Cool: Montana charms at London fan event


Joe Montana was the life of the party at a fan forum this morning in London. The former 49ers quarterback was asked about his relationship with Steve Young, and he had a quip at the ready. "Did you ever have anybody try to take your job," he told a group of 200 mostly British fans, some of them wearing red-and-white No. 16 jerseys.

Montana, 57, managed several more laughs, including when he was asked about the 49ers' impending move from Candlestick Park in San Francisco to Levi's Field in Santa Clara. Montana began seriously, saying he wasn't happy that the "people in power" in San Francisco failed to keep the 49ers there.

Still, he said it was hard to feel nostalgic for decrepit Candlestick. "It could not rain for a year, and you'd go in there and it's soaking wet," he said of the field that players nicknamed "The Quagmire." He said fans will learn to love the new stadium adding, "It's not like it's in Oakland."

Another line that drew laughs - but fell flat to some ears - was when a fan asked Montana if he had any lingering injuries from his playing days. "Um, I can't remember," he deadpanned.

Montana later said he's had six or seven knee surgeries, three back injuries, two neck injuries and a torn elbow tendon. He said he eventually would need knee-replacement surgery but was holding off on it as long as possible.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and former Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli also attended the event. Montana also spoke at an NFL rally at Trafalgar Square this afternoon.

-- Matt Barrows

October 26, 2013
Goodell: Aldon Smith's rehab will be considered with any NFL discipline


Aldon Smith's decision to enter a treatment facility -- and the at-least five games he'll miss -- will be considered when it comes to any league discipline for the 49ers outside linebacker, Commissioner Roger Goodell said this morning.

"Certainly," Goodell said following a fan forum at the Landmark Hotel in London "The issue here is not to discipline players. The issue here is to stop the behavior. And Aldon has voluntarily said, 'I need help.' We are obviously there to support him, and the 49ers did a great job getting him into a facility to try to get that help. And so we all support that. So, yes, it will be factor, for sure."

On Friday, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said he expects to meet with Smith, 24, in the "near future." He said the team must be convinced that Smith, who has two DUI arrests since January 2012, has made progress and is on his way to recovery. But the 49ers' hope is that Smith will be able to rejoin the team this season. The 49ers have their bye next week. They host Carolina Nov. 10.

Smith was arrested early on Sept. 20 after crashing his truck into a tree in a residential front yard in San Jose. He was at practice later that day and on the playing field two days later in a loss to the Colts. He played every defensive snap.

Asked if he agreed with the decision - widely criticized - to allow Smith to play in that game, Goodell said he had no choice. "We've made a couple of proposals to our union that we should take quicker action," he said of the NFL Players' Association. "But they've resisted that. ... . So that's something we weren't in position to be able to do."

Said Baalke on Friday : "The decision we made was the decision we felt was in the best interest of the young man. Those can be, and obviously have been, questioned by many. But our ultimate goal hasn't changed, and that's to help Aldon get back to a place where he feels very comfortable and can move forward in a very positive manner."

In addition to the DUI issue, Smith also faces three felony gun possession charges stemming from an out-of-control party at his house in June 2012. Smith is expected to answer to those charges shortly. He also could receive league discipline in connection to that issue, but the NFL is unlikely to act until the case has been adjudicated.

Smith, voted the team's MVP last year, was leading the 49ers with 4 ½ sacks when he left the squad after Week 3. He still leads the team in that category heading into Week 8. The 49ers have won all four games that Smith has missed.

-- Matt Barrows

October 25, 2013
49ers notes: Harbaugh's 49ers to travel the globe ... and then some

LONDON -- The 49ers are the flyaway winners when it comes to longest distanced traveled by an NFL team this season with a big chunk of their total coming on their current trip to London.

Jim Harbaugh is well aware of that distinction. When a reporter today mentioned that the 49ers will cover 30,000 miles this season, Harbaugh corrected her. "Thirty-two thousand," he said.

To be even more precise, it's 32,948 miles, which is 6,000 miles more than the second most well-traveled team, the Chargers.

"It's something that we're used to," said Harbaugh, noting that the 49ers are consistently in the Top 3 when it comes to miles travelled in the NFL. "It's that old saying -- you'll play 'em anytime, anywhere, any place."

How far is 32,948 miles? Well, the circumference of planet earth is 24,901 miles. So it's as if the 49ers rounded the globe and kept going a little farther.

Foreign soil -- The 49ers spent their final practice of the week on an artificial field at North London's Allianz Park, the home of Saracens rugby team. The team had been practicing on a grass field but it was in bad shape -- "very muddy, lot guys slipping, falling," safety Donte Whitner said -- prompting the move.

October 25, 2013
Boldin back? Baalke sings praises of veteran wide receiver


Anquan Boldin has caught the lion's share of the passes that have gone to 49ers wide receivers this year, and seven weeks into the season, he's the only 49ers wideout with a touchdown catch.

But he's only signed through this season.

Asked today whether he'd like to extend Boldin, a 11-year veteran, Trent Baalke said those issues would be dealt with at season's end. But he left no doubt what Boldin has meant to the team this year and what he could provide for the future.

"There is no better pro, in my opinion, than Anquan," Baalke said during a 2 1/2-hour sit-down with reporters this morning at a London hotel. "He is the consummate professional. He's a leader, he's a mentor. He's a great family man. He is a class act."

The 49ers traded for Boldin, 33, in the offseason with the thought he'd pair well with their No. 1 wideout, Michael Crabtree. That still might happen later this year, but that duo only likely will be together for December and any playoff games the 49ers might have if Boldin departs via free agency.

Four other wideouts -- Mario Manningham, Marlon Moore, Kyle Williams and Kassim Osgood -- also will see their contracts expire at the end of the league year. Crabtree and Jon Baldwin are signed through 2014. Rookie Quinton Patton is signed through 2016. Which means the 49ers are likely to draft a wide receiver, perhaps early, in the spring.

Baalke stopped short of revealing his plans. But he acknowledged the merits of having someone like Boldin in both the locker room and wide-receiver room to mentor young players. "Certainly having a receiver like Anquan is a very big positive," he said.

-- Matt Barrows

October 25, 2013
Baalke "hopeful" about Aldon Smith, discusses LaMichael James, looming trade deadline

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LONDON -- Trent Baalke said Friday he's proud of the way his team has "continued to grind" through the first half of the season despite injuries to high-profile players, a two-game losing skid and a messy off-the-field incident involving Aldon Smith.

The 49ers general manager said he planned to meet with with Smith, who entered a treatment facility Sept. 23, "in the near future" but that there was no timeline for the Pro Bowl outside linebacker to return to the field.

Baalke said the 49ers must be convinced Smith has made progress and that there must be a "trust factor" with the 24 year old, who was arrested for DUI early on Sept. 21, his second such arrest in two years, and also is facing gun-possession charges.

"Our ultimate goal is to help Aldon get back to a place where he feels very comfortable and can move forward in a very positive manner," Baalke said. ".... Obviously we're hopeful. But at the same time we're prepared for either outcome."

Baalke, who rarely holds court with reporters, spoke for 2 1/2 hours at a London hotel before his team went through its final, full practice of the week. Among the topics:

October 24, 2013
49ers notes: Manningham TD sparks welcome-back celebration

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Welcome back, Mario Manningham.

The 49ers receiver punctuated his comeback from a knee injury this week by catching a long, practice-field touchdown pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick and sparking an impromptu party in the end zone. "(Alex) Boone and everybody else decided it was time to have an eruption," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Thursday. "We all had a celebration on the field."

When can Manningham perform similar feats on game days? It's still being determined.

He hasn't played since December when he tore the ACL and PCL ligaments in his left knee during a loss to the Seahawks. He was placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list when the season began and last week joined practice for the first time. From that point the 49ers had a three-week window in which to add him to their 53-man roster.

Asked if Manningham would be back soon, Roman demurred. "It's day to day," he said. "He'll just continue to work day to day and he'll be evaluated day to day."

The 49ers certainly could use help at the position. No wideout other than Anquan Boldin has caught a touchdown for them this season. The team's second-leading pass catcher at the position, Kyle Williams, ranks 103rd in the league among wideouts in receiving yards.

Tight end Vernon Davis revealed Thursday that he's had to pull himself out of the team's Wednesday practice the previous two weeks because of lingering soreness from a hamstring injury he suffered in Week 2.

October 24, 2013
49ers to ditch countryside practice field for more stable ground


The 49ers will hold their final, full practice this week at a rugby complex in North London instead of their countryside home at The Grove, which one prominent player deemed a bit too soggy and slick for his liking.

"That field - I wouldn't say I'm very fond of it," linebacker Patrick Willis said today. "Soggy and slippery and everything that a guy that's trying to get over a groin (injury) doesn't need." Willis suffered a groin injury in Week 3, missed two games, and has played the last two weeks.

The 49ers stayed at The Grove in 2010 and played on the makeshift practice field, which at the time was considerably soggier to the point of having standing water in one of the corners. The NFL this year worked with the head groundskeeper of the Tottenham Hotspur football (soccer to us yanks) club to make it more manageable. The Vikings stayed and practiced there when they played the Steelers earlier this year.

The 49ers, meanwhile, were scheduled to move from The Grove, in Hertfordshire County, to London on Friday afternoon. That's still the plan, but on the way they will stop at Allianz Park, the home of the Saracens Rugby Club, for practice.

Willis said he didn't want it to sound like he was ungrateful. The overall experience, he said, has been better than the team's visit three years ago. "It just goes to show how much they appreciate the NFL," he said. "Like I said before, they've been very hospitable to us."

Injuries - All four of the players who missed Wednesday's practice - receiver Jon Baldwin (illness), defensive ends Justin Smith (shoulder) and Ray McDonald (bicep) and nose tackle Glenn Dorsey (hamstring) - were on hand for the start of Thursday's practice.

-- Matt Barrows

October 24, 2013
Fangio: Cornerback Eric Wright making strides in practice

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Cornerback Eric Wright spent his first week of practice with the 49ers working on the scout team. This week, he's received a promotion of sorts -- working with the 49ers' defense.

"A few snaps here and there," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Thursday. "Obviously, he's not comfortable in the system yet, but he's a guy that we think, once he kind of grasps it, he'll grow by leaps and bounds quickly."

The 49ers have a unique situation at cornerback in that they have six of them and all have value to the team. In a week and a half, the 49ers must decide whether to elevate Wright, who is currently on the non-football injury/illness list, to the 53-man roster. When that happens, another player -- likely a cornerback -- must be taken off the active roster.

Wright's advantage is that he has experience and can play on the outside as well as in the slot as a nickel- or dime-defense cornerback.

Asked if the 49ers had a tough decision looming, Fangio said, "It could be, but eventually there will be a spot for a cornerback-slash-nickel-dime player. They'll eventually work their way out there."

He said that could come through attrition or by Wright proving he is simply better than someone else on the roster.

If Wright is brought to the 53-man roster, Nnamdi Asomugha could be released. Asomugha began the season as the team's No. 3 cornerback, but Tramaine Brock has taken over that role and Asomugha has been inactive the last two games.

Then again, Asomugha has starting experience. Perrish Cox currently plays the dime-cornerback role, and if Fangio and his staff determine that Wright is better at it, Cox could be expendable. A third cornerback, rookie Darryl Morris, is eligible for the practice squad. Morris, however, has stood out on special teams in recent weeks.

-- Matt Barrows

October 23, 2013
Euro-pass: Joe Montana to hold seminar for UK quarterbacks


The NFL continues to export American football to the United Kingdom and is sending a rather famous ambassador to help it catch on.

Joe Montana will hold a Quarterbacking 101 seminar in London Thursday for aspiring young passers. And there are more candidates than you might think. American football became an officially recognized sport last year by the British University College and Sport, the governing body for university athletics in the UK.

Nearly 75 colleges and universities have an American-style football team and they play a tournament each year. This year's national champion was the Birmingham Lions, who defeated the Hertfordshire Hurricanes 17-13. (The 49ers are spending the week in Hertfordshire).

Montana will hold a one-hour coaching session for approximately 15 quarterbacks who play for various teams at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre. The former 49ers great also will be part of the NFL's fan rally at Trafalgar Square on Saturday.

According to the NFL, UK participation in amateur football has risen since the league started having annual games at Wembley Stadium, growing by approximately 15 percent per year since 2007. The league says the 49ers are the third-most popular team in the United Kingdom after the Patriots and the Dolphins.

Of course, none of the young quarterbacks on hand Thursday were alive to see Montana's most famous throw in 1982. But the NFL started to take root here in the 1980s when the top game of the week was broadcast on Sunday evenings. Which means that Montana's pupils may not fully grasp the significance of being taught by No. 16, but their dads might.

- Matt Barrows

October 23, 2013
"Football nerd" Lawrence Okoye learning at a rapid pace


WATFORD, England - Lawrence Okoye can tell you Justin Smith's weight, where Ray McDonald went to high school, when Glenn Dorsey will celebrate his birthday.

That sort of knowledge has earned him ribbing among teammates - "Sometimes some of the guys in the D-line room take the p--- out of me," Okoye said - but it's an indication of how deeply the Englishman, who went through his first-ever American football practice in May, has immersed himself in the sport.

"He's a football nerd right now," defensive line coach Jim Tomsula said of Okoye, who is constantly on a laptop computer. "It's all football. He talks it. He eats it. He sleeps it," Tomsula said. " ... The guys get on him because he can tell you where everybody's from. He can tell you what school they went to, what high school they went to, how tall they were in the ninth grade, how tall they are now."

Okoye injured his knee in the 49ers' third preseason game, and the team placed him on injured reserve - effectively ending his season - shortly after. He can't practice, but he's permitted to rehabilitate alongside teammates, to attend meetings and, mostly, to study the game. "I watch several hours of film a week and I understand what's going on," he said. "I'm learning certain things, and things that didn't click before, click now."

His knowledge of even the most minute details extends beyond the 49ers roster. Before the draft, Okoye often expressed admiration for Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt, the NFL's reining defensive MVP, who is similar in dimensions to the 6-6 Okoye. Asked if he's noticed other tall defensive players - perhaps Arizona's Cardinals Calais Campbell - in the six months since the draft, Okoye had a precise answer.

"He's slightly taller - he's 6-8," he said. "He's got the Margus Hunt type of size." Indeed, both Campbell and Cincinnati's Hunt are listed as 6-8.

More important, Okoye said he has a better understanding of how defensive linemen play and what makes the good ones effective. Perhaps the best at his job, he said, is Smith, who had far fewer sacks than Watt last year - three vs. 20 ½ - but whom teammates elected as one of their captains for 2013.

October 23, 2013
Safety check: Whitner, Reid practice; Manningham looks ready


Starting safeties Donte Whitner and Eric Reid were on hand for the start of practice, and both are expected to play Sunday against the Jaguars. "I think they're going to be fine," Jim Harbaugh said.

Whitner injured his left knee late in Sunday's win over the Titans while Reid rolled an ankle. Neither was on the field for Chris Johnson's 66-yard yard catch-and-run touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Wednesday's practice began without starting defensive linemen Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Glenn Dorsey. Smith is dealing with a shoulder injury, and he may get Wednesdays off for the rest of the season because of his veteran status. McDonald (biceps) and Dorsey (hamstring) are recovering from injuries. All three of the linemen are expected to play Sunday.

Receiver Mario Manningham, who is recovering from a December ACL tear, also was at practice and looked to be in good shape. Harbaugh said there was a possibility one of three players currently on injury lists - Manningham, cornerback Eric Wright and defensive end Tank Carradine - could be elevated to the active roster as defensive lineman Quinton Dial was last week.

Such a move would require the 49ers to create a roster spot. If Manningham were elevated, one possibility would be to release receiver Marlon Moore, who has been inactive twice this season, or to put rookie Quinton Patton on injured reserve. Patton suffered a broken foot in Week 4.

When the 49ers were in London three years ago, they released safety Chris Maragos, who had been on the 53-man squad at the time. Later that week, they added him to the practice squad, and he never had to leave the team.

-- Matt Barrows

October 23, 2013
How the NFL replaced God (for a certain generation, anyway) in Britain


This story ran in The Bee on Oct. 29, 2010, the last time the 49ers warmed up for a game at London's Wembley Stadium. They ended up beating the Broncos, 24-16.

LONDON - On Sunday, the 49ers will run onto the Wembley Stadium field and be greeted by thousands of rowdy, red-clad British fans, a following that belies a decade's worth of rubbish performances and a 1-6 record this season.

The 49ers may be 31st in the league standings, but they rank third in the hearts of British NFL fans behind the Patriots and the Dolphins. How can a bad team have such a big backing? To understand how the 49ers became a British favorite, you have to rewind to 1982.

At that time, Brits had only four television channels. The fourth - aptly called Channel 4 - began under the direction of Margaret Thatcher's government, which wanted more alternative programming.

One of those alternative shows was a strange sport that Americans called football but that was much closer to rugby. It aired on Sunday evenings and was a replay of the top NFL game from the previous week.Only an hour long, it edited out all of the stoppages - timeouts, injuries, etc. - from the American broadcast. It also had little competition for young male viewers.

In Britain, 6 p.m. Sunday is known as the "God Slot." Two of the other channels at the time aired religious programming. The third - "Antiques Roadshow." For a young boy at the time, the choice was either finish your homework or watch American football.

October 22, 2013
Occult of personality: Jim Harbaugh goes deep about Frank Gore


Frank Gore: runner, blocker, pass catcher ... mystic? Jim Harbaugh thinks so. Here's what he said about the 49ers tailback this morning on KNBR radio.

"The more I get to know Frank - I just love him so much," Harbaugh told hosts Brian Murphy and Paul McCaffrey. "He's a mystic, a mystical type of guy. He's got a connection to, a spiritual connection. He sees more than most of us do. A very deep guy, very special person, love him to death."

Harbaugh isn't the first member of the 49ers brass to point out Gore's savant-like qualities. Former coach Mike Nolan and former general manager Scot McCloughan have said similar things about Gore, who had an eyebrow-raising low Wonderlic score before the draft in 2005 but who has been one of the 49ers' most intelligent football players since they acquired him.

Both McCloughan and Nolan said that Gore also has an uncanny eye for which young players will succeed and which won't. McCloughan, in fact, said he would hire Gore as a scout after his playing career is over. (Gore once told me that will be a tough task for him because he doesn't like to fly; his scouting duties may have to be restricted to his native South Florida).

Of course, Gore isn't quitting his day job anytime soon. He ranks fourth in the NFL with 547 rushing yards. And while he doesn't have the break-away speed he had in 2006, the 30-year-old tailback leads the league in runs of 20 or more yards - seven. Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor (age 24) and Washington running back Alfred Morris, 24, are tied for second with five.

"He's one of those guys who are very inspirational - through his action and what he says," Harbaugh said. "But mostly what he does. He's one of those guys who can see things, can point them out. Has a great mind for football."

Also on KNBR, Harbaugh said he didn't think the injuries suffered by starters Donte Whitner (knee) and Eric Reid (ankle) were serious. "Nothing to alarm me, I don't think," he said. The 49ers will find out more during Wednesday's first full practice of the week.

-- Matt Barrows

October 21, 2013
Video highlights from 49ers' 31-17 win over Titans

Here are highlights from the 49ers' victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday:

October 21, 2013
49ers notes: Next stop, London; McDonald's bicep bounces back


The 49ers will spend the week in what has become their English country home - The Grove resort in Watford, Hertfordshire, which is north of London. The team spent the week there before beating the Broncos, 24-16, at Wembley Stadium in 2010.

The 49ers left Nashville Sunday night and arrived in London around 1 p.m. local time today (while most of you were still nestled snug in your beds). As was the case in 2010, they have a media event with the Tottenham Hotspur football club where they will meet Tottenham players and hold drills with local children.

From there they will head to The Grove. "We've done it before," left tackle Joe Staley said. "This is our second trip to London, and we also went to Youngstown (Ohio) for a week, too. Everyone here is used to long trips, and I think it's beneficial."

The 49ers have had week-long stay over on Youngstown in each of the last two seasons, and they are 2-0 in the game that follows that trip.

Biceps is better - Defensive end Ray McDonald, who said he struggled with a loss of strength in his right arm last week against Arizona, said the arm felt "a thousand times better" Sunday against the Titans.

October 20, 2013
Green light to go: Kaepernick, 49ers run past Titans for fourth straight win


NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Theories for Colin Kaepernick's meager rushing opportunities this season have ranged from the coaches' lack of faith in his backups to a mysterious foot injury to NFL defenses being better prepared for a new generation of running quarterbacks.

On Sunday, however, there was nothing keeping Kaepernick from gaining yards on the ground, including the Titans defense. The 49ers quarterback ran 11 times, scored his first rushing touchdown of the season and propelled his team to a big halftime lead they would not relinquish in their 31-17 win. It was the 49ers' fourth straight win and also the fourth consecutive time they went over the 30-point mark since 1998.

Against the Titans, the 49ers used the formula that helped them snap out of a two- game skid last month - a potent running game, a few timely passes and a defense that caused turnovers. In this game, the special teams also played a part when speedy gunner Darryl Morris caused the Tennessee returner Darius Reynaud to muff a punt return and Kassim Osgood pounced on the loose ball in the end zone. The touchdown occurred at a point in the fourth quarter when the Titans, woebegone for most of the game, were threatening to crawl back into the contest.

"They were just playing with fire," Jim Harbaugh said of the special teams. "... And the dream play by Darryl Morris and Kassim Osgood is one you lay awake at night and dream about. It looked like an arrow going through snow."

Another difference was that in this game, Kaepernick joined Frank Gore in the 49ers' ground attack. Gore finished with a game-high 70 rushing yards. Kaepernick was just behind him with 68 yards (he had three kneel-downs for minus-two yards at game's end), including a 20-yard read-option touchdown run in the second quarter on which, for the first time in 2013, he looked like his 2012 self.

October 20, 2013
Harbaugh: Aldon Smith might be back "in a couple of weeks"

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Jim Harbaugh said today the hope among the 49ers is that Aldon Smith, who is currently in an in-patient treatment program, will re-join the team in the next "couple of weeks." That could mean that Smith, who left the team after its Week 3 loss to the Colts, would be back some time during the team's Week 9 bye week, which follows next week's game in London.

"I'm not real knowledgeable on exactly when that's going to be, but I think it's some point in the next couple of weeks," Harbaugh said. "I hear things are going very well." He said Smith's mother attended Sunday's game in Nashville.

Smith entered the treatment program three days after he was arrested for suspicion of DUI. According to authorities, he drove his pickup truck through a residential front yard in San Jose early on Sept. 20. It was his second DUI arrest in as many years, and it added to a long list of off-the-field troubles, which now also includes felony gun possession charges stemming from an out-of-control part in June 2012.

Smith is expected to turn himself into authorities in relation to the gun charges when he gets out of the treatment facility. The Santa Clara District Attorney's offoce said it expects that to occur this month. Smith ostensibly would post bond at that time.

To this point the 49ers have said they weren't sure when Smith, 24, would be back, and some national reports have said the outside linebacker could remain out for the season. Harbaugh's time line - while he kept it a vague - has been the only one to date. "I'm hopeful," he said. "(But) I'm not the definitive source on any announcement there."

Teammates said they've kept in touch with Smith, who still leads the team with 4 1/2 sacks despite his four-game absence, and are eager to have him back. Smith, in fact, texted his concern to defensive end Ray McDonald after McDonald tore his biceps tendon two weeks ago.

"We miss him," McDonald said. "He's a great teammate, a great friend of mine. I'm pretty sure he's coming back a better person than when he left."

-- Matt Barrows

October 20, 2013
Running story: Kaepernick, 49ers up 17-0 at half

The 49ers hit the ground running against the Titans - including quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who scored his first rushing touchdown of the season on a 20-yard score in the second quarter and who leads all rushers with five carries for 50 yards.

San Francisco's opening drive went 12 plays, with nine of them runs. That possession was capped by a 44-yard field goal from Phil Dawson. The second-quarter touchdown drive went eight plays and was marked by two excellent catches by receiver Anquan Boldin, one of them a one-handed snag as he was going out of bounds.

It also included a timely roughing-the-passer call against the Titans that wiped out an interception by safety Bernard Pollard. Kaepernick was trying to hit Vernon Davis, last week's offensive hero, along the sideline, but Pollard had positioned himself deep and was ready for the throw. The Titans nearly came away with another deep pass intended for Davis earlier in the second quarter.

Kaepernick's touchdown came on third and seven. He has run out of the read option four times so far, which is more than in any other game after Week 1. He received key blocks by fullback Bruce Miller, tight end Vance McDonald and, at the very end, Frank Gore, on the run.

The 49ers also received another big defensive play from Tramaine Brock, who has created distance between himself and Nnamdi Asomugha in the competition to be the No. 3 cornerback. Brock had excellent position on an underthrown pass from Jake Locker down the right sideline.

From there, Kaepernick led a six-play drive that included another big run from him and a pass to McDonald to the one-yard line. From there, San Francisco sent in its effective heavy-jumbo package - Adam Snyder and Daniel Kilgore added to the offensive line - and Gore tumbled in for a short touchdown to make the score 17-0.

-- Matt Barrows

October 20, 2013
Dorsey will start against Titans; LaMichael James not in uniform


Both veteran nose tackle Glenn Dorsey and rookie Quinton Dial will be in uniform for today's game against the Titans. Running back LaMichael James and receiver Marlon Moore are among the inactives.

Dorsey injured his hamstring last week against Arizona and he practiced sparingly during the week. When the team activated Dial, who only began practicing on Tuesday, is seemed to signal that Dorsey would not play today. In fact, he will start the game at nose tackle with Tony Jerod-Eddie and Dial supplying backup at the position.

James, meanwhile, is inactive for the second straight week. On Monday Jim Harbaugh insisted that the second-year running back had a big role on the team and that against some opponents, the 49ers will have three tailbacks and against others they will have four. Against the Titans, they will have three: Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon.

With both Moore and Nashville native Quinton Patton (foot) inactive, the 49ers will have four active wide receivers: Anquan Boldin, Kyle Williams, Jon Baldwin and Kassim Osgood. For the Titans, Lavar Edwards will start at defensive end in place of Derrick Morgan. Brian Schwenke will start at center for Rob Turner.

49ers inactives:
QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson
WR Quinton Patton
WR Marlon Moore
RB L James
CB Nnamdi Asomugha
LB Jermaine Cunningham
G. Joe Looney

Titans inactives:
QB Rusty Smith,
LB Zaviar Gooden,
LB Moise Fokou
LB Patrick Bailey
C Rob Turner
T Byron Stingily
DE Derrick Morgan

-- Matt Barrows

October 19, 2013
49ers tap rookie Quinton Dial for d-line help on Sunday


Rookie Quinton Dial, who had his first-ever NFL practice this week, was elevated to the 49ers' active roster today and presumably will see his first action on Sunday against the Titans.

Dial's activation signals that starting nose tackle Glenn Dorsey still is recovering from a hamstring injury suffered Sunday against Arizona. Second-year player Tony Jerod-Eddie likely will start at nose tackle and Dial, who at 320 pounds is the 49ers' biggest defender, would supply backup at the position.

The 49ers created a roster spot earlier in the week when they released receiver/tight end Chris Harper, who was later picked up by the Packers. The 49ers coaches were deliberating between activating Dial and undrafted rookie Mike Purcell, who has been practicing with the team since May. Purcell remains on the 49ers' practice squad.

That they went with Dial signals that he had a promising week of practice. The fifth-round pick played at Alabama, which uses a defensive scheme similar to the one the 49ers employ. Dial mostly played defensive end in that scheme but he also had several starts at nose tackle. Dial had been recovering from a torn ligament in his big toe, which required surgery in January.

Another reason for activating the rookie: The 49ers don't have a lot of options. They lost another nose tackle, Ian Williams, earlier this year to an ankle injury. Meanwhile, starting defensive end Ray McDonald is dealing with a biceps injury.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said earlier this week that the best course of action would be waiting until the 49ers' Week 9 bye to activate Dial. "But we're not in a perfect world right now with the status of our defensive line," he said. "So we've got to do what we've got to do."

-- Matt Barrows

October 19, 2013
49ers suspected QB Locker might start for Titans ... and he will


The 49ers had a suspicion that injured Titans quarterback Jake Locker might make it back for Sunday's game, and their hunch was right. According to multiple reports out of Tennessee, Locker will start against the 49ers barring a setback.

He's missed the last two games after suffering a hip injury against the Jets in Week 4. Ryan Fitzpatrick filled in as Tennessee's starter in those games - both of them Titans losses. Fitzpatrick has thrown two touchdowns against four interceptions, and he has a 61.2 passer rating.

Locker, meanwhile, won three of the four games he started earlier this season. He's thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions and has a 99 passer rating. Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers knew there was a chance Locker would be back.

"Well, it's not the first time a team's been in the position that way," he said Friday. "So you just do it and prepare for both."

Locker, taken 8th overall in 2011, is one of the five quarterbacks taken ahead of Colin Kaepernick in that draft, and the 49ers quarterback has said he uses that as motivation. He may face at least one of the others, Carolina's Cam Newton, later this season.

Locker played against Harbaugh's Stanford squads four times when he was at Washington. Stanford was 3-1 in those games with Washington's only win coming in 2007 when Locker was a freshman. The others were lopsided wins for Stanford.

"I don't think it's any advantage," Harbaugh said of his collegiate history with Locker.

-- Matt Barrows

October 18, 2013
"It's going to be soon," Harbaugh says of Mario Manningham's return


Jim Harbaugh today said that wide receiver Mario Manningham, who is coming back from an ACL injury suffered in December, "looked really good" during Thursday's practice. Asked about the timetable for Manningham's return to the active roster, Harbaugh said he didn't have a "crystal ball" but said "it's going to be soon."

"It looks really good," Harbaugh said. "He had a very good day yesterday."

Aside from Anquan Boldin, the 49ers haven't received much production from their wide-receiving corps this season. Manningham, who signed a two-year contract with the team last season, served as a third-down receiver until he was injured but still finished second on the team to Michael Crabtree with 42 receptions.

The 49ers have an open roster spot after releasing receiver Chris Harper Thursday. (He was claimed today by the Packers). Harbaugh said the team would add someone to the 53-man roster on Saturday but would not reveal what that transaction would be. It's likely that one of two rookies, defensive linemen Mike Purcell or Quinton Dial, will be elevated to the active roster.

Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey practiced on a limited basis today but is listed as questionable on the injury report. "Did good," Harbaugh said of Dorsey. "We'll make that determination," he said when asked if Dorsey would play against the Titans.

Notes - Ahmad Brooks is dealing with a family situation in Virginia and has missed the team's last two practices. He'll join the 49ers in Nashville this weekend.

* Guard Alex Boone was fined $7,875 for striking Cardinals defensive lineman Alameda Ta'amu, who in turn, was fined $10,000 for kicking Boone in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game. Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu was fined $7,875 for grabbing running back Kendall Hunter after Hunter scored a touchdown and unnecessarily throwing him to the ground. Boldin, who came to Hunter's defense and who was penalized, was not fined.

Right tackle Anthony Davis was fined $15,750 for clipping a Cardinals defensive linemen. Davis was penalized at the time for the clip.

* Like Dorsey, Jon Baldwin (illness), Ray McDonald (biceps), Carlos Rogers (knee) and Justin Smith (shoulder) are listed as questionable. They are expected to play. Dorsey is the only 49er who is truly questionable for Sunday's game.

-- Matt Barrows

October 18, 2013
Video: 49ers Blitz by Matt Barrows

Catch our new video feature: "49ers Blitz by Matt Barrows." Matt looks back at last week's game against the Cardinals with his MVP pick and looks ahead to the Titans on Sunday (1:05 p.m.). Have a question for Matt? Talk to him on twitter @mattbarrows or send him an email.

October 17, 2013
Don't forget me: Marcus Lattimore eying return to practice, too


Two injured 49ers draft picks, Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial, hit the practice field for the first time this week. So what's the status of the third member of that group, running back Marcus Lattimore?

Jim Harbaugh said at the time of the draft the plan was to have Lattimore rehabilitate for the full season so he can come back as strong as ever in 2014. That's still the plan. But that doesn't necessarily mean the 49ers won't get to see what Lattimore can do with a ball in his hands.

The running back said this week he's hoping to put on shoulder pads at some point and join his teammates in practice. That's a possibility. Players like Lattimore who are on the non-football injury list are allowed a three-week window to practice with their teams any time between Week 6 and Week 11. At that point, they either are elevated to the active roster or shut down for the rest of the season.

That means Lattimore conceivably could practice beginning in mid November. "I still might get a chance to practice this year, and it might be soon," Lattimore said. "I look forward to it. I'll be head over heels when that happens."

Of the three injured draft picks, Lattimore had, by far, the most devastating injury. He suffered a dislocated right kneecap and three torn knee ligaments on Oct. 27. He said he's accepted the the long-term approach the 49ers are taking.

But he said he also stays motivated by preparing himself for the scenario - however unlikely it is - that the 49ers could need him on the 53-man roster later in the season. San Francisco currently has four healthy tailbacks on the active roster: Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Anthony Dixon and LaMichael James. A fifth, Jewel Hampton, is on the practice squad.

Asked what he considers the carrot in relation to the monotonous rehabilitation work he's doing this year, Lattimore said, "I'm working to whenever they put me on the field. It's definitely practicing this year. And maybe playing. I don't know what's going to happen."

- Matt Barrows

October 17, 2013
49ers create a roster spot by cutting Chris Harper

The 49ers today waived Chris Harper, a player they were hoping could one day fill the quasi tight end/wide receiver role that Delanie Walker played in previous seasons. Harper was a fourth-round pick by the Seahawks in April, and the 49ers signed him off Seattle's practice squad in early September. He has been inactive for every game this season.

The team will need to make room on its 53-man roster in coming weeks as players like Tank Carradine, Mario Manningham and, eventually, Michael Crabtree fully recover from injuries suffered in the last year. They may need a spot in the coming days for a defensive lineman.

If nose tackle Glenn Dorsey is unable to play with a sore hamstring, either Quinton Dial or practice-squad player Mike Purcell - or maybe both - would be added to the active roster.

- Matt Barrows

October 17, 2013
Fangio: 49ers may have to tap rookies Purcell, Dial vs. Titans


Vic Fangio today said the plan this week is to monitor Glenn Dorsey's hamstring strain, and if the nose tackle isn't ready to play on Sunday, to elevate one of two rookies - or possibly both - to the active roster.

Fangio got his first extended look at one of those rookies, Quinton Dial, on Wednesday. "He did fine," Fangio said. "Thought he was moving around well, mixed in, was pretty good on his assignments and overall was pleased with the way he practiced yesterday."

Another option - and perhaps a more realistic one - is undrafted rookie Mike Purcell (Wyoming), who spent the entire offseason with the 49ers and currently is on their practice squad. Fangio said Purcell was ahead of Dial and defensive end Tank Carradine, who also only joined practice this week.

"He had all of OTAs, he had all of training camp," Fangio said. "Mike's able to go in there and battle in the trenches for us. He can play nose or he can play end for us. So he's versatile, he's experienced when you compare him to Quinton and Tank. So he's ready to go if needed."

October 16, 2013
49ers mourn passing of team physician Daniel Garza


Dr. Daniel Garza, a 49ers team phycisian and a leading researcher on concussions in athletes, has passed away.

Stanford University, where Garza, 43, was an assistant professor and an orthopedic surgeon, said in a news release Wednesday that Garza died at his Bay Area home on Tuesday night. The cause of death was not immediately available.

Garza began working with the 49ers in 2006 and had become a fixture on the their sideline in recent years. He was one of the trained eyes assigned to watch for signs of a concussion among the 49ers players. The team released a statement Wednesday night:

"The 49ers organization has been informed of a tragedy. We were saddened to learn Dr. Dan Garza died unexpectedly Tuesday. Our sincerest thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this trying time."

Garza was an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and emergency medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine. His primary research focused on the prevention of traumatic brain injury in athletes.

According to the school's news service, Garza conducted extensive studies on the risk of concussions by fitting athletes, including Stanford football players, with mouthpieces that measured the impact and frequency of collisions.

-- Matt Barrows

October 16, 2013
Five guys: Teams that passed in draft motivate Kaepernick


It takes Frank Gore 10 seconds to tick off the names of the five running backs taken ahead of him in the 2005 draft. No one's timed Colin Kaepernick when it comes to the five quarterbacks already selected when the 49ers drafted him in the second round (36th overall) in 2011, but he acknowledged it's a motivating force.

"It's something I definitely haven't forgotten," Kaepernick said Wednesday.

One of the five passers, Jake Locker, was taken 8th overall by the Titans. Kaepernick said he remembers having a productive, pre-draft visit in Tennessee and feeling he could wind up with the Titans. "I thought I was someone they were interested in," he said. "Whether it was then (at pick No. 8) or later, I didn't know. But it's in the past now."

Titans coach Mike Munchak confirmed that Kaepernick was someone they had circled that spring. What did he think of Kaepernick during his visit?

"'My gosh, this guy's a man,'" Munchak said on a conference call. "Just a good-looking kid that was smart. And like I said, he had a passion for the game. That kind of always strikes me with players, the guys that really love what they do. He was one of those guys. That's why I wasn't surprised when I saw him, all of a sudden, he was starting last year and he was making plays."

Locker hasn't played since Week 4 when he suffered a right hip injury against the Jets. Munchak said the quarterback has been cleared medically but will be eased back into the position. Ryan Fitzpatrick started the last two games for Tennessee, both of them losses. Fitzpatrick has a 61.2 passer rating on the season.

Munchak sounded skeptical that Locker could play Sunday. Jim Harbaugh, however, said he wouldn't be surprised to see Locker, whom he faced four times when Locker was at Washington and Harbaugh at Stanford. The Cardinal was 3-1 in those games with Locker's only victory coming in 2007.

"He's always been an extremely tough competitor," Harbaugh said. "That's why you, knowing the competitor he is, if there's any possible way that he would play he'll be out there."

Five guys
1st overall: Cam Newton, Carolina
8th overall: Jake Locker, Tennessee
10th overall: Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville
12th overall: Christian Ponder, Minnesota
35th overall: Andy Dalton, Cincinnati

-- Matt Barrows

October 16, 2013
49ers starting defensive line sits out Wednesday's practice

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The 49ers started today's practice without their starting defensive line.

Ray McDonald (biceps) and Glenn Dorsey (hamstring) were working on a side field with the team's strength staff while Justin Smith (shoulder) was working on his upper body strength in the weight room. Smith, a 13-year veteran, often gets a day off of practice - as was the case last week - and this could be a trend for the rest of the season.

The silver lining to the injuries is that the team's backups, particularly rookies Quinton Dial and Tank Carradine, will get extra repetitions in practice. Both have recovered from offseason injuries and took part in their first session on Tuesday.

"As much football as possible," Jim Harbaugh said of their workload. "... As many reps as we can get them both with our defense and on the scout-team, 11-on-11 football."

Both players can be elevated to the 53-man roster over the next 20 days. Dial, in fact, could be activated soon if Dorsey is ruled out for Sunday's game against the Titans. If he can't play, Tony Jerod-Eddie would start the game at nose tackle and the Titans certainly would counter with a run-heavy game plan.

Two other players recently eligible to practice, receiver Mario Manningham and cornerback Eric Wright, also were on the field for the start of practice. Wright, Carradine and Dial all were wearing numbers of Titans players, meaning they will work with the scout-team this week.

Guard Alex Boone was working out on a side field at the start of practice. He was listed as questionable with a shoulder injury on last week's injury report but played the whole game.

-- Matt Barrows

October 16, 2013
Delanie Walker surprised "a little bit" by Aldon Smith DUI

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Delanie Walker, who lost an aunt and uncle to an alleged drunk driver hours after the Super Bowl, said he was partly surprised to hear that former 49ers teammate Aldon Smith was involved in another DUI incident last month. But he also noted that Smith's issues fit a pattern.

"You've got to remember, a lot of us come into this league not having a dime in our name," Walker said on a conference call. "And then you sign million-dollar contracts. I mean, you go out and kind of lose your mind a little bit. And I think it takes time."

It's been an offseason of change for Walker, a 2006 draft pick by the 49ers. He signed a long-term free-agent contract with the Titans, whom the 49ers will face in Nashville Sunday. And he became an anti-drunk driving crusader after his aunt, Alice Young, who had helped raise Walker, was killed along with her husband, Bryan, when they pulled to the side of a highway outside New Orleans.

According to police, a 26-year-old woman struck the couple's car from behind at more than 100 mph, causing both vehicles to burst into flames. The driver was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide, one count of driving while intoxicated and one count of reckless operation of a motor vehicle.

Walker has become an active member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and he said he has an event after the 49ers come to town. One of his goals is to eliminate drunk driving incidents among NFL players. He said that most players have issues with self control in their first two or three years after becoming professionals when they suddenly have money and fame they never had before.

October 15, 2013
Wide receiver savior? Not so fast, Manningham says

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Both Mario Manningham and Eric Wright said it felt good to finally join their teammates in practice today. They had different reactions, however, on when they'd be ready to help the team on game days.

Wright, who had been on the non-football injury/illness list, said he was in good shape. "The first step was getting out there and running around a little bit," the cornerback said. "I felt pretty good, so we'll see how it all unfolds."

A silver lining to missing nearly half the season, he said, is that he's not dealing with the nicks and ailments his teammates have. "You go out there and have a fresh body, so to speak, in Week 7 of the season -- that's really not normal," he said.

Manningham, meanwhile, suffered two knee ligament tears in December. He said one of his goals was getting his confidence back after suffering what he said was the worst injury of his career.

The 49ers have not received much production from any other wide receiver other than Anquan Boldin this season. But it didn't sound as if Manningham would be a savior - at least not right away.

Asked if he'd go through a full practice this week, Manningham preached caution.
"I just got cleared yesterday, man," he said with a smile. "I can't do a whole practice. I'll just ease my way into it."

Though Wright did not pass a physical with the 49ers in July, it apparently was not due to a physical issue. Wright instead dealt with what the team described as a personal matter. He's been arrested for DUI in Los Angeles twice since July 2012. The first case was dropped by the local district attorney; the DA has yet to decide whether to charge Wright in the more recent case, misdemeanor DUI, which occurred in July

Asked why he failed the 49ers' physical, Wright gave a vague answer: "Just all of us, generally, we have personal responsibilities," the San Francisco native said. "We all have families. Not all of us, but we have kids and different things like that. We're responsible for a lot of things ... . So I'm just grateful for this opportunity to be playing for my hometown team and playing for such a storied franchise. And pretty much being able to live out my dream."

-- Matt Barrows

October 15, 2013
Cramming speed: Rookies Dial, Carradine stay late after first practice

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While Glenn Dorsey was getting treatment on his injured right hamstring Tuesday afternoon, Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial were getting extra coaching on the practice field.

Along with receiver Mario Manningham and cornerback Eric Wright, the two rookies went through their first practice of 2013 as they try to cram in an offseason's worth of practice into a few short sessions. How long will it take for them to be game-ready?

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said he wasn't sure. "We're confident that one or two of them will be ready soon," he said on KNBR radio. "Just don't know how soon yet."

It seems as if there's a greater need for Dial, a nose tackle, than Carradine, who will play defensive end for the 49ers.

The team's starting nose tackle, Dorsey, went down with a right hamstring injury in the first quarter of Sunday's win over the Cardinals and had to be helped off the field. "It felt pretty bad when I did it," Dorsey said today.

October 14, 2013
Harbaugh says LaMichael James has "big role" on 49ers, but what is it?


Jim Harbaugh on Monday insisted running back LaMichael James has a "big role" role on the 49ers despite the fact he was a healthy scratch for Sunday's game against the Cardinals. "We definitely all value LaMichael as a backup running back," Harbaugh said. "And there's going to come a time, like last year, where he's fully in the mix and depended on. And that time will come again."

James, however, has had only a bit role on offense and special teams this season. After returning from a knee injury in Week 4, he has seven carries for 31 yards and has returned one kickoff for 29 yards.

He and guard Joe Looney are the only remaining members of what is quickly becoming an infamous 2012 draft class. Both were healthy but did not play in the win over Arizona. Looney has yet to dress for a game in 25 contests. James, a star running back at Oregon and a second-round draft pick, showed frustration with his meager role last month.

"Some things I just don't understand at all," he wrote on Twitter. "I don't work at State Farm. I'm not trying to be insurance." James later deleted the entry, but Harbaugh said he was aware of the running back's feelings.

"He'll be back playing," he said. "I know the talk about insurance, etc. It's no slight to LaMichael. LaMichael is very good player. And he's a very valued member of our team."

It's hard to see where James, who excels as an outside runner, fits in an offense that has used power-running as its cornerstone in recent weeks.

October 14, 2013
Harbaugh: Carradine, Dial among four injured players to join practice on Tuesday


Jim Harbaugh had no update on nose tackle Glenn Dorsey and his injured hamstring at his noon press conference. Dorsey left the game in the first quarter after straining to run down 199-pound running back Andre Ellington. He had to be helped off the field but later was seen moving around without a limp.

Harbaugh said the plan remains for three of the players on the non-football injury list, Quinton Dial, Tank Carradine and Eric Wright, to begin practicing with the team for the first time on Tuesday. At that point, there is a three-week window to sign them to the 53-man roster. The same goes for receiver Mario Manningham, who is on the physically-unable-to-perform list.

Dorsey's injury may put pressure on Dial, a fifth-round pick, to contribute quickly. Meanwhile, Ray McDonald obviously was affected by his biceps injury. That might create a need for Carradine, a second-round pick, to play defensive end.

Harbaugh was optimistic on Sunday that Dial could be ready for next week's game in Nashville. He struck a more cautious tone today. He said the players involved could be anywhere from 100 percent of where they were to 60 percent. "There's a process once they come back (to practice) to being ready to compete in games," Harbaugh said. "Then the final step is, they've got to be better than somebody. They've got to be better than somebody at their position."

October 14, 2013
Film review: McDonald not himself; Staley excels; two-faced special teams


The 49ers and Cardinals seem to have a lot of odd-flow games. What I mean by that is that Sunday's contest had a very strange rhythm. Both teams made a lot of mistakes. The 49ers defense produced four turnovers and a safety but also gave up several big passing plays. The first half stretched on and on and on, and the game lasted 3:31. It was, by far, the longest game of Week 6. Cincinnati and Buffalo went to overtime, and that game only lasted 3:19.

One of the questions moving forward is how the 49ers banged up defensive line will cope with its injuries. Jim Harbaugh suggested that rookie Quinton Dial - and maybe even Tank Carradine - could be ready as early as Sunday when the team visits Tennessee. One starter, Glenn Dorsey, left the Cardinals game with a hamstring injury while another, Ray McDonald, clearly was affected by his biceps injury and said as much after the game.

McDonald said his right arm didn't feel as strong as it normally is, and he was relieved throughout the game by Demarcus Dobbs. McDonald was not credited with a single tackle. McDonald said the hope is that the muscle will gain strength, and he spent a lot of time in the weight room last week in an effort to maintain that strength. Can the 49ers stay put or will they add someone from the outside? Most transactions are made Tuesday, so we shall see ...

Through three quarters, the game reminded me of the one against Arizona in 2011 - another odd-flow game - which was one of three losses for the 49ers that regular season. I call it the "John Skelton game" because Skelton made exactly three big throws, and that was enough to beat the 49ers that day. On one of them, safety Dashon Goldson was too aggressive and it allowed Larry Fitzgerald to run for a long touchdown.

That happened again Sunday, except it was Donte Whitner who went for the big blow instead of the safe tackle. Overall Whitner had a strong game. But on Fitzgerald's 75-yard touchdown, it seemed to be a case of his big-hit persona affecting his judgment.

October 13, 2013
49ers notes: Wide receivers quiet; Jed York slams Candlestick wave


SAN FRANCISCO - Vernon Davis had more receiving yards at halftime - 171 - than he has had at the end of any regular-season game in his eight-year career. But the tight end's big day against the Cardinals also underscored the team's lack of firepower at wide receiver.

Tight ends and running backs accounted for 201 of Colin Kaepernick's 252 passing yards against the Cardinals, and a wide receiver didn't catch a pass until 1:20 remaining in the first half.

Asked if that was an issue, Harbaugh said there were other contributors aside from Davis. "Well, we targeted some other guys," he said. "Vance (McDonald), Jon Baldwin, Kyle Williams."

He also noted that Anquan Boldin, who had three catches for 28 yards, had a critical third-down reception on the team's 18-play drive at the end of the game. McDonald, Baldwin and Williams, however, had one catch apiece. Williams' catch was his first since Week 3.

Because of the lack of productivity at the position, the 49ers have been rumored to be interested in trading for a receiver, including the Browns' Josh Gordon and the Giants' Hakeem Nicks.

October 13, 2013
Ailing 49ers defense comes up big; rookies to the rescue?


SAN FRANCISCO - The Cardinals were driving. The 49ers defenders were hurting. And the momentum in the game was shifting in Arizona's direction.

That's when Patrick Willis turned to NaVorro Bowman. One of us needs to make a play, one inside linebacker said to another. And with the 49ers leading by just two points late in the third quarter, one of them did.

As Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald was going to the ground after a short reception at the San Francisco 23-yard line, Willis jammed his hand into Fitzgerald's midsection and knocked the ball free. The turnover set up an 18-play offensive drive that ended with a short Kendall Hunter touchdown run and which seemed to squeeze the life from a Cardinals team that had been threatening to take a lead just a few minutes earlier.

"We grinded some meat," Jim Harbaugh said of the drive.

The 49ers won 32-20 and now stand alone in second place in the NFC West, one game behind the Seahawks.

Rookie safety Eric Reid and cornerback Carlos Rogers intercepted Carson Palmer in the first quarter. Outside linebacker Corey Lemonier sacked Palmer for a safety in the second quarter and then forced another fumble in the fourth quarter. But it was Willis' takeaway, his teammates said, that changed the course of the game.

October 13, 2013
Halftime: Vernon Davis only offense for 49ers, but it's enough so far

Thumbnail image for VDTD.jpg

The 49ers didn't complete a pass to a wide receiver until 1:20 was left in the half. They didn't need to.

Vernon Davis has 171 receiving yards - a regular-season, career-high for the tight end - including two long touchdowns on pretty, touch passes from Colin Kaepernick, and the 49ers lead 22-14. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have exactly two big plays. But both of them led to touchdowns - a 75-yard catch-and-run by Larry Fitzgerald and a 53-yard reception from Brittan Golden. That set up a 15-yard touchdown run by Andre Ellington.

For most of the half, however, the 49ers' best scoring chances came when they were on defense. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer, who entered the game tied with Houston's Matt Schaub for second-most interceptions (nine) in the NFL, threw one to rookie safety Eric Reid and another to Carlos Rogers. Both set the 49ers offense up in the Arizona red zone, but it only could come away with two Phil Dawson field goals.

Rookie linebacker Corey Lemonier, playing in place of Aldon Smith, also had a safety on a sack of Palmer. It was his first career sack.

Otherwise, the story of the game has been Davis, who hauled in the 49ers' longest reception last week against the Texans, a 63-yarder. Today, he has touchdown catches of 61 and 35 yards. The longer of the two came on a free play for the 49ers when the Cardinals jumped offsides.

Kaepernick took advantage by stepping up in the pocket and lofting a perfect pass that hit Davis in stride. Davis missed the team's Sept. 22 game against the Colts with a hamstring injury and he's said recently that he's still not 100 percent.

Kaepernick shook off a slow start in which the 49ers opened with four, three-and-out series. He's now 12-22 for 216 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on a tipped pass in the end zone. He also lost a fumble at the end of the half.

Both Anquan Boldin and Jon Baldwin caught short passes in the last two minutes of the half.

- Matt Barrows

October 13, 2013
Thin at nose tackle, 49ers watch Dorsey leave with injury

Already short on nose tackles, the 49ers watched starter Glenn Dorsey go down with an apparent hamstring injury on the Cardinals third offensive series Sunday. Dorsey went down while trying to reach for 199-pound tailback Andre Ellington and immediately began clutching his right hamstring. He is questionable to return.

Second-year player Tony Jerod-Eddie, whose most natural position is defensive end in the team's 3-4 scheme, filled in. But the 49ers already are without Ian Williams, who suffered a broken ankle in Week 2, and may have to find outside help. The team's left defensive end, Ray McDonald, is playing with a torn right biceps tendon.

The 49ers could get rookie Quinton Dial back at practice this week. But defensive coordinator Vic Fangio expressed skepticism about how quickly Dial or any of the other rookies who have yet to practice with the team could get up to speed.

-- Matt Barrows

October 13, 2013
Pregame: Willis to start; LaMichael James, Asomugha healthy scratches

LaMichael James and Nnamdi Asomugha are healthy scratches for the 49ers today as they take on the Cardinals. Meanwhile, Patrick Willis will start at inside linebacker or the first time since a Sept. 22 groin injury while Jonathan Goodwin will start at center after missing Friday's practice with the flu.

For the Cardinals, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been dealing with hamstring strains in both legs. He worked out under the gaze of the team trainers two hours before the game and will start for Arizona.

James had been serving as the 49ers' kick returner and No. 3 running back. He was not on the injury report this week. That he and offensive lineman Joe Looney will not play means no one from the 49ers' 2012 draft class will be in a 49ers uniform today.

Asomugha, meanwhile, seems to have lost his No. 3 cornerback job to Tramaine Brock, who has two interceptions last week and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his effort. That bears watching as the 49ers appear poised to get their first look at another cornerback, Eric Wright, next week.

QB McLeod-Bethel Thompson
WR Quinton Patton
WR/TE Chris Harper
RB LaMichael James
CB Nnamdi Asomugha
LB Jermaine Cunningham
OL Joe Looney

QB Ryan Lindley
RB Ryan Williamson
LB Kevin Minter
LB Kenny Demens
OT Bobby Massie
TE D.C. Jefferson
DE Ronald Talley

-- Matt Barrows

October 11, 2013
Marcus Cooper making plays in KC, ex-49ers teammates noticing


Ex-49er cornerback Marcus Cooper has been making plays for Kansas City, and his former teammates have noticed.

Veteran Carlos Rogers said Cooper, the 49ers' final draft pick in April, sat next to him in meetings throughout the offseason. "Now I see him on TV making plays," Rogers said. "You always want to see a guy - I don't want to say looks up to you - but tries to learn from you and tries to see what's going on on the field. And he's helping them out and making plays."

Cooper is not a starter for the 5-0 Chiefs. But he serves as the team's third cornerback and often plays starter-like minutes. In Sunday's win over the Titans, he was in on 81 percent of the defensive plays and scored the game's first touchdown when he recovered a loose ball in the end zone. He also had an interception and knocked away three other passes.

He was among the 49ers' final cuts, and the team intended to add him to the practice squad. The Chiefs picked him up instead.

Rogers started talking about Cooper because he was asked, tongue-in-cheek, whether he was jealous of Tramaine Brock's two interceptions against the Texans. No, Rogers said, in fact he takes pride in seeing younger players he's helped mentor, like Brock and Cooper, succeed. Brock was named the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week; Cooper was a candidate to win the award in the AFC.

Rogers said he hasn't communicated with Cooper recently, but others on the team have. "The guys on the team keep talking to him," he said. "Everybody's watching him every chance we get because Kansas City's playing good, he's playing and being productive for them."

-- Matt Barrows

October 11, 2013
McDonald set to practice; anatomy lesson on why he'll play


Ray McDonald was in uniform for the start of today's practice today after missing the two previous sessions this week. The 49ers left defensive end tore a bicep tendon in his right arm in the third quarter of Sunday's win over the Texans. He was in the weight room as his teammates began Wednesday and Thursday sessions. McDonald has said he will play in Sunday's game against the Cardinals, and that plan appears to be be in place.

A brief anatomy lesson from Matt Barrows, bsMD: It's called a biceps for a reason. The top of the muscle attaches to the shoulder in two places. That means the arm can still function as long as one of the connections remains attached. The arm can't do everything normally - turning the hand from palm-down to palm-up, for example. But for a defensive end, the function should be close to normal.

The concern is that the muscle could atrophy a bit. And that probably explains why McDonald has been doing upper-body workouts all week: He's making sure he retains the strength in that arm.

- Matt Barrows

October 10, 2013
Fangio skeptical about how soon Tank Carradine, others can contribute


Dry-witted, level-headed and a 26-year NFL coaching veteran, Vic Fangio often is the sobering voice of reason when it comes to the 49ers. And today the team's defensive coordinator pumped the brakes on how soon reinforcements like lineman Tank Carradine and cornerback Eric Wright could contribute on defense.

Both are eligible to begin practicing as early as Tuesday. But when they could join the roster, and most important help the defense, remains to be seen, Fangio said. The 49ers acquired Wright, a six-year veteran, in August. He's currently on the non-football injury/illness list, and he spends practices working out with the team's strength and conditioning staff.

"To get in shape and run with the strength coaches and the trainers and do drills is one thing, but football is another," Fangio said. "And he's learning our system in meetings. But learning it in a meeting and executing it on the field are two different things. "

He said the issue is more pronounced for Carradine, a second-round pick, and for nose tackle Quinton Dial, a fifth-round selection. Fangio said that in a normal circumstance rookies would get up to speed with an NFL defense first in OTAs practices, then in training camp then the preseason.

"So here we are right dead in the middle of the regular season and these guys have missed all those steps," Fangio said, "So when they're ready, and I have no idea when that'll be, they'll place them. We'll activate them and play them. But until then I think it'd be a mistake to put them out there too early."

The 49ers currently have six cornerbacks on the 53-man roster. When Wright eventually is activated, the team likely will have to release one of those cornerbacks. Fangio noted that Nnamdi Asomugha, who had been battling a knee injury, was healthy enough to play Sunday against the Texans but was not activated for the game. Instead, Tramaine Brock assumed the role of No. 3 cornerback, finished with two interceptions and was named the NFC's defensive player of the week.

-- Matt Barrows

October 10, 2013
Anquan Boldin seeing double, 49ers seeking another WR weapon


Anquan Boldin has seen double teams before in his 11-year career. But never quite as many as have been thrown at him and the 49ers in the first five games of the season. "At times, but not as much," Boldin said today when asked if he saw double coverage in Arizona and Baltimore.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman echoed those sentiments. "Well, he's getting doubled some. He got doubled quite a bit last week (against Houston), especially on third down," Roman said. "And there's a lot of different way you can play doubles, and he's seen all of them this year. And it's just becoming more prevalent. And it's to be expected, really."

The issue underscores a problem that arose when Michael Crabtree injured his Achilles' heal on May 21: The 49ers didn't have an obvious No. 2 option at wideout then, and they still don't now. Boldin has accounted for 67 percent of the team's wide-receiver catches, 78 percent of the wide-receiver yards and 100 percent of the team's wide-receiver touchdowns.

Roman said those double teams will dictate where the ball goes on a given pass play. That is, if Boldin is getting extra attention, Colin Kaepernick shouldn't force a pass in his direction. Instead, he should look to where the coverage is thinner.

The problem is that despite all the double teams against the Texans, Kaepernick didn't connect with any other wideout aside from Boldin, who played opposite Larry Fitzgerald when he was with the Cardinals and had Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones to take the pressure off last year with the Ravens. Jon Baldwin, who played 23 snaps Sunday, was targeted twice but both attempts were incomplete.

"The ball's going to go to the open guy," Roman said. "And other guys besides Anquan need to step up. I think John Baldwin was a great example. Coverage dictated the ball goes to him against the Rams and that's where the ball goes, and he makes the play."

October 9, 2013
QB carousel: 49ers drop John Skelton, sign Bethel-Thompson


The 49ers quarterback merry-go-round took another spin today, this time dropping off John Skelton, who was acquired last week, and picking up former Sacramento State quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson, who spent the 2011 training camp with the 49ers, had been serving as the Vikings' No. 3 quarterback. Minnesota, however, released him earlier this week to make room for Josh Freeman.

Skelton, meanwhile, was signed last week to ostensibly compete with Colt McCoy to be the primary backup to Colin Kaepernick. In explaining the move, Harbaugh talked about wanting a veteran with starting experience, which Skelton had. Bethel-Thompson, 25, never has even attempted a pass in a regular-season NFL game.

The move underscores the uncertainty the 49ers have at the position after Kaepernick. The team signed Seneca Wallace in late August only to cut him a few days later. In acquiring Skelton, they had to release promising-looking rookie B.J. Daniels and hoped to add him to the practice squad. Instead, division rival Seattle signed Daniels to its active roster.

Bethel-Thompson also is familiar to Jim Harbaugh having faced him and Stanford in the opening game of the 2010 college season, a 52-17 Stanford win. Bethel-Thompson (6-3, 230) was injured early in that game. The San Francisco native also served as the Sacramento Mountain Lions quarterback during the 2011 UFL season after spending the offseason with the 49ers.

Bethel-Thompson initially made the 49ers' practice squad in 2011 but was made expendable when the 49ers signed Scott Tolzien.

-- Matt Barrows

October 9, 2013
Aldon Smith to face weapons charges, to surrender this month


One day before the 49ers played the Cardinals in 2011, Aldon Smith purchased rifles in the gun-friendly state of Arizona. Bringing them back to California has added to the embattled linebacker's long list of problems.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney on Wednesday filed three felony counts of illegal possession of assault weapons, which were found at his home in the aftermath of a raucous 2012 party that ended with Smith stabbed and two men shot.

Five weapons belonging to Smith were discovered when authorities arrived, including a .45-caliber handgun both Smith and former teammate Delanie Walker allegedly fired to try to disperse the crowd. None of the weapons was registered with the state Department of Justice. The three semi-automatic rifles were determined to be illegal in California.

In a statement, district attorney Jeff Rosen said that Smith's weapons have such a high capacity for killing that it outweighs their use as recreational firearms. "California's prohibition of these powerful weapons is not about hunting or target practice," Rosen said, "It is about interrupting the long history of death, carnage and grief assault weapons have inflicted on California communities."

Investigators said the danger posed by the guns was underscored when one of the party goers snuck into Smith's bedroom, grabbed one of the rifles and began carrying it around the house.

October 9, 2013
Tramaine Brock wins award, but will he be around next season?


Tramaine Brock today was named the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week for his two-interception performance against Matt Schaub and the Texans. Brock returned one of those takeaways for a touchdown (and nearly did the same with the other). He also had excellent coverage on a deep pass later in the game that prompted a pass-interference call on a Houston wideout.

Brock's award emphasizes that San Francisco is the place to shop for teams seeking cornerbacks in March and April. Five of the 49ers' cornerbacks will be free agents at the end of the league year, including Brock, who is likely to be one of the more intriguing prospects. A look at the position as it stands now and the decisions the 49ers must make over the next five months:

Nnamdi Asomugha: The 11-year veteran signed a one-year deal with no guaranteed money in the offseason. That means if the 49ers parted ways with him, they'd owe him little. That seems unlikely even if Brock hangs onto the No. 3 job for the rest of the season. The 49ers need depth at the position and Asomugha played well enough during the preseason and early regular season. Still, he doesn't play special teams like the other Nos. 4 and 5 cornerbacks. Signed through 2013.

Tramaine Brock: If he keeps this up, Brock stands to be a big name on the free-agent market. At 5-10, 197 pounds, he isn't as big as the cornerbacks teams seem to prefer these days. But he's strong and aggressive and obviously matched up well against big and physical Andre Johnson on Sunday. Something else going for Brock: He's only 25 years old. Signed through 2013.

Tarell Brown: He's coming off his best season in the NFL, one on which he had an interception in the playoffs and a forced fumble and recovery in the Super Bowl. Teams have been attacking Brown recently. And while that's led to a string of penalties - Brown has more than any other 49er - he has not allowed any big plays. The 49ers and Brown's representatives supposedly are working to remedy a contract snafu that resulted in Brown losing $2 million. That could result in a contract extension. However, those 49ers players like Brown who have reached their contract year over the last few years have been allowed to test the market. That seems to be the plan with Brown. Signed through 2013.

October 8, 2013
McDonald says he'll play with partially torn bicep


The "bee sting" that Ray McDonald felt in his right arm two days ago turned out to be a partially torn bicep tendon, the 49ers defensive end said Tuesday. McDonald said the injury shouldn't keep him out of any games, and he plans to start in his usual spot Sunday against the Cardinals. He said he'll have surgery to repair it after the season.

"It's going to be sore," McDonald said. "But it should be fine."

McDonald has missed only one start since the 2011 season. He suffered the bicep injury in the third quarter against the Texans when he was shedding an offensive lineman on the way to sacking Matt Schaub. He immediately began clutching his arm and did not play another snap.

McDonald suffered what is known as a proximal tear, which means it was at the shoulder end of the biceps muscle. That's preferred over a distal tear - at the elbow end, in which the bicep often retracts toward the shoulder and typically requires immediate surgery.

McDonald said that he hasn't lost any strength in the arm at this point, but Dr. Dan Solomon, an orthopedic surgeon with Marin Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Novato, said that's a possibility as the season wears on. Solomon also said it's easier to repair the injury immediately than it is several months later. He said the muscle tends to atrophy a bit and the tendon can roll up on itself.

October 8, 2013
Hard Knocks? It would drive 49ers, Baalke bonkers


I'd hate to be the guy who has to tell Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke about the NFL's latest rule change. Today in Washington, D.C., league owners voted to compel one team each year to appear on HBO's Hard Knocks, which follows - sometimes in intimate and embarrassing ways - a team's training camp and its preparation for the regular season. In previous years, teams have been reluctant to appear on the show, causing last-minute scrambling by the network and the league.

As any true fan knows by now, Harbaugh and Baalke barely can tolerate even the slightest media intrusion. Practices are, for all intents and purposes, closed. Injury information is guarded like KGB files. Getting to within 300 yards of team headquarters requires a badge and a retinal scan.

Yes, Harbaugh has the ability to ham it up and would make for extremely compelling television (and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula has so much personalty, HBO would craft a spinoff for him, "Tomsula Tonight"). But Baalke is very serious and very reclusive. Baalke is filmed less often than the endangered snow leopard of the Himalayas.

There's one way the two men can avoid the root-canal that would be appearing on Hard Knocks. And that's to make the playoffs. Today's rule change came with several loopholes. Every team will be eligible to be picked except: teams that have made the playoffs in at least one of the last two seasons; teams that have a first-year head coach; and teams that have participated in the previous 10 seasons. (Chiefs, Cowboys, Jets, Dolphins, Bengals).

It also helps that HBO's formula calls for lesser-known players on lesser-known teams. That is, the Cardinals and Raiders might be more compelling to them than the 49ers.

I wonder if Jed York also would be willing to work out a deal with the league. That is, have a handshake agreement that the 49ers will play in London again after this season if they are kept off of Hard Knocks. Owners today also approved three London games in 2014 to be hosted by the Raiders, Falcons and Jaguars.

The 49ers are in line to visit the Raiders next year, and it's possible the league could play that game overseas to avoid the violence that ended the teams' annual preseason meeting two years ago.

- Matt Barrows

October 8, 2013
Harbaugh: Ray McDonald injury not serious


Jim Harbaugh this morning said the 49ers "dodged a bullet" with a potential disastrous injury to Ray McDonald. The team's starting left defensive end left Sunday's game in the third quarter after experiencing a sharp pain in his left arm. McDonald didn't return and feared a torn bicep, an injury that could have knocked him out for the rest of the season.

Instead it's something less severe.

"We may have dodged a bullet there," Harbaugh said on KNBR radio's morning show. "It looks like Ray might have walked one off." Harbaugh said he hadn't yet spoken to McDonald but received a positive report from the team's medical staff. McDonald had an MRI on the arm Monday afternoon.

The 49ers also don't have any tryouts scheduled for today, another indication that McDonald won't miss an extended period or perhaps any games at all.

It was the second straight week Harbaugh was able to use both expressions. Against the Rams in Week 4, left tackle Joe Staley went down with what appeared, from Staley's reaction, to be a bad leg injury. Instead, there was only a minor sprain and Staley played, and played well, the following week against the Texans.

Second-year player Tony Jerod-Eddie entered the game for McDonald and made an immediate impact. He had an interception when he surprised Matt Schaub by dropping back into coverage. "We've seen him in practice," Harbaugh said of Jerod-Eddie, who also serves as the backup nose tackle. "So we know he's ready and doing a good job."

A day earlier, Harbaugh said the 49ers were expecting reinforcements in the form of rookie defensive linemen Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial. Both can begin practicing with the 49ers a week from today. At that point, they can be added to the 53-man roster any time in a three-week span.

Because neither rookie has ever had an NFL practice, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is likely to take them along slowly. And it may be that neither is activated until just before the team's bye week, which would give them an extra week of practice before they appeared in a game. Carradine likely will be a backup at defensive end; Dial at nose tackle.

-- Matt Barrows

October 7, 2013
Why Josh Gordon should tempt the 49ers


If one thing is clear about the 49ers' offense after five weeks it's this: They badly could use a big, play-making receiver opposite Anquan Boldin, who has accounted for 67 percent of the team's wide-receiver catches and 78 percent of the wide-receiver yards. Which is why Josh Gordon, whom the Browns are dangling as trade bait, has to be very tempting to general manager Trent Baalke.

Gordon is everything the 49ers don't have at that spot. He's big - 6-3, 225 pounds. And he makes big catches down field. He caught his seventh career touchdown last week against Buffalo. All seven have been from 20 yards or longer. Gordon, who is averaging 16.8 yards a catch, was suspended for the first two games this year, but he still has more touchdown catches (two) this season than every 49ers wide receiver not named Anquan Boldin (zero).

ESPN's Adam Schefter and NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported this afternoon that the 49ers have inquired about Gordon and that the Browns are seeking a second-round pick in return. The Browns used a second-round pick to acquire Gordon in last year's supplemental draft. Both also reported that the deal is unlikely to go through because the 49ers are expecting to get Mario Manningham back this month and Michael Crabtree back next month.

That indeed would create a glut of wide receivers. But neither Manningham nor Crabtree give the 49ers the kind of explosive potential Gordon would bring. Furthermore, the 49ers certainly don't have a glut of receivers moving forward. Boldin, Manningham, Kyle Williams, Marlon Moore and Kassim Osgood all will be free agents in March. Crabtree is signed through 2014. And while reports about his Achilles' rehabilitation are very encouraging, there remains a risk that he won't return to his previous form.

Trade for Gordon now and the 49ers would have him through 2015.

Of course, there's a big risk involved. When a player enters the supplemental draft, he usually is covered in red flags. And Gordon fits that description. His suspension this year came after testing positive for codeine. If he fails another test, he faces a year-long suspension at least. With the Aldon Smith episode fresh in the 49ers' minds, that might be a hard trade to pull off. He also has reportedly had issues with his work ethic in Cleveland, which helps explain why the Browns want to move him.

But here's a couple more reasons Baalke might consider it. One, the 49ers are teeming with draft picks for next season - 13 total. That includes two likely second rounders. Should the Chiefs finish 8-8 or better, the third-round pick from last year's Alex Smith trade turns into a second-round pick. The Chiefs, if you haven't noticed, are 5-0. It's very hard to see the 49ers finding spots on the roster for 13 rookies, no matter how creative they get.

Finally, the 49ers, including Baalke, simply haven't been good at finding wide receivers. That goes back nearly 15 years and includes names like Rashaun Woods, Derrick Hamilton, Rasheed Marshall, Ronald Johnson and A.J. Jenkins. Baalke has a blindspot for the position. In Gordon, the 49ers would have a young, proven product. At least you'd know what he can do when he hits the field.

The NFL trade deadline is Oct. 29.

-- Matt Barrows

October 7, 2013
Reinforcements coming: Carradine, Dial, Manningham -- even Crabtree -- close to joining 49ers


The reinforcements are coming!

Jim Harbaugh today said the 49ers' two rookie defensive linemen, Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial, are on track to begin practicing for the first time next week. After they start practicing, the team has a three-week window with which to add them to the 53-man roster or shut them down completely for the season.

Carradine, a second-round pick who is coming off an ACL injury suffered in November, will play defensive end and is ostensibly the long-term replacement for Justin Smith. Dial, who Harbaugh said was up to 340-350 pounds, would play nose tackle. "Moving real well," Harbaugh said of Dial, a fifth-round pick. "So high hopes for him." He said he expected both to contribute this season, although they likely will need plenty of practice before they are game-ready.

That news comes as the 49ers await word on defensive end Ray McDonald, who suffered a right biceps injury in the third quarter Sunday. McDonald is having an MRI on the arm today, which will determine how much time he'll miss. The results of that MRI were not available in time for Harbaugh's noon press conference.

Harbaugh also had good news about wide receivers Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree. Like Dial and Carradine, Manningham is on track to resume practicing with the team next week as it prepares for a two week trip to Nashville and then London. He said Crabtree is on schedule to return to the field by mid to late November, which is in line with a six-month rehabilitation from his May 21 Achilles' tendon tear. Crabtree has been running and doing agility drills, and he has looked remarkably spry for someone who had a complete rupture less than five months ago.

Two more defensive players could join the ranks in coming weeks as well. Like the others listed above, cornerback Eric Wright currently is on the non-football injury list, and Harbaugh said he, too, could start practicing next week. All of the players on NFI are eligible to start practicing after Week 6 to Week 11. From that point, there is a three-week window for putting them on the 53-man roster.

He said he also believes that Aldon Smith, currently in a substance abuse treatment program, is making progress. "A few texts," Harbaugh said. "Heard things are going very well, very positive, (from the) reports back."

He said there is no timetable for Smith's return.

-- Matt Barrows

October 7, 2013
Film review: What's wrong with Kap? (Ans: nothing); Brooks, Wilhoite shine


There was a lot of hand-wringing last night and this morning about Colin Kaepernick's modest outing, despite the 34-3 score. Kaepernick, after all, completed passes to only three different pass catchers, and only one of them, Anquan Boldin, was a wideout. More than half of his 113 yards came on a touchdown pass to Vernon Davis, and Davis gained most of those yards when he pulled away from safety Ed Reed down the sideline.

But it's not as if Kaepernick was inaccurate or if he was foolish with his decisions. On the team's first offensive drive, he hit Davis for 13 yards, Boldin for 12 yards, Davis for 11 yards and Boldin for nine yards. He converted three third downs on the drive. When the drive was over, the 49ers were up 14-0, and frankly did not need Kaepernick to be prolific for the rest of the night. Instead they needed him to be responsible and safe. And he was.

Here's why Tramaine Brock's interception was so important: As sturdy as the 49ers' defense was all evening, the Texans still were able to reliably run the ball. Arian Foster had 47 yards at the half - Frank Gore had 45, by comparison - and finished with 98. If the score had been closer, the Texans could have run the ball more, and as was the case in Weeks 2 and 3, worn down a 49ers defense that, by the end of the game, was missing three starters, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and Ray McDonald.

This was a vintage game from Vic Fangio and the 49ers defense. They didn't send very many blitzes at Schaub, choosing instead to drop different players into coverage in an effort to confuse the interception-prone quarterback. (Spoiler alert: it worked).

With Smith out of action, the team's best pass rusher is Ahmad Brooks. Brooks, however, spent a lot of time trailing running backs and tight ends into the flat or downfield. He's taken on a bigger role now that his bookend has taken a leave of absence, and Jim Harbaugh took time to acknowledge that in his post-game press conference.

"There's a guy that he does so many things for our defense," Harbaugh said of Brooks. "Pressure, run game, knocking it down, knocking down the edges which is so important in today's scheme going against a zone running game. He does it with very low fanfare. There's never any, there's no sack dance he has. He just doesn't call a lot of attention to himself. He plays every game, game-in game-out, tough. A lot of energy. Just another guy to highlight."

October 6, 2013
Pick 'em game: Brock, 49ers defense dominate Texans


SAN FRANCISCO - Tramaine Brock lost his job as the No. 3 cornerback to Nnamdi Asomugha during training camp. It'll be more difficult to pry it away from him this time.

Brock returned an interception for a touchdown 90 seconds into Sunday's game, then nearly did the same after grabbing another interception in the second quarter. The 49ers defense forced four turnovers in all, sent Texans quarterback Matt Schaub to the bench and came away with their second straight blowout win, this one by a score of 34-3.

That, coupled with a Seahawks loss to the Colts, means the 49ers trail Seattle by one game in the NFC West. "We got points off all the turnovers, or in Tramaine's case he scored a touchdown" Jim Harbaugh said afterward. "But that was huge, a great way to start the game."

On the third play from scrimmage, Schaub tried to throw to his favorite target, wideout Andre Johnson, who was coming out of the slot. However, Schaub didn't see Brock, who had been lined up outside, come off his man and break toward Johnson. Brock slid in front of the receiver, collected the ball and ran into the end zone for an 18-yard score. It was the fourth straight game Schaub had thrown an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

And he nearly threw another 20 minutes later when Brock again jumped in front of Johnson and took off toward the end zone. This time he was pulled down from behind by the receiver, but the 49ers offense needed just four plays - including a two-yard touchdown run by Anthony Dixon - to convert that turnover into points.

October 6, 2013
49ers notes: McDonald feels "sting" in his bicep, doesn't finish game


SAN FRANCISCO - For the second straight season, the 49ers had to finish a game without a starting defensive linemen who was forced to the sideline with an arm injury.

Left defensive end Ray McDonald went to the locker room after suffering what he described as a "sting" in his right biceps. McDonald said it occurred during his third-quarter sack of Matt Schaub when he was fighting off blockers on his way to the quarterback. He'll have an MRI today.

"Yeah, I am," he said when asked if he was concerned. "But it's not that bad. I'll see (today)." Both Demarcus Dobbs and Tony Jerod-Eddie filled in at defensive end from that point forth, and Jerod-Eddie had a key interception to snuff out a Texans drive late in the third quarter. But with another defensive lineman, Ian Williams, already out for the year with a broken ankle, the 49ers would have to make additions if McDonald misses an extended period.

One option is ex Raiders and Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour, a free agent. CBS Sports reported Sunday that the 49ers had contacted Seymour, who turned 34 Sunday, presumably after Williams went down, but that they couldn't agree on compensation. Seymour has been voted to seven Pro Bowls over his career.

The 49ers also have two rookie defensive linemen on the non-football injury list. Second-round pick Tank Carradine suffered an ACL injury 11 months ago. Fifth-round pick Quinton Dial is recovering from a torn toe ligament, which required surgery in January.

October 6, 2013
Halftime: Brock, 49ers picking apart Texans offense


During training camp, Tramaine Brock lost his job as the No. 3 cornerback to Nnamdi Asomugha. It'll be more difficult to pry it away this time.

Brock returned an interception for a touchdown 90 seconds into the game, then nearly did the same in the second quarter. He was pulled down from behind by intended receiver Andre Johnson instead, but the 49ers offense needed only four more plays - including a two-yard touchdown run by Anthony Dixon - to convert that turnover into points.

They lead the Texans 21-0 at the half.

On the third play of the game, Houston quarterback Matt Schaub tried to throw to Johnson, who was coming out of the slot. However, he didn't see Brock, who had been lined up outside, come off his man and run toward Johnson.

Brock broke in front of the receiver, collected the ball and ran into the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown. It was the fourth straight game Schaub had thrown an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

Brock began the offseason as the 49ers' third cornerback, a position that sees plenty of playing time, especially against teams like the Texans that use three or more receivers or treat their tight ends as wideouts. A minor injury to Brock in training camp allowed Asomugha to step into the role, which he kept until suffering a knee injury Sept. 22 against the Colts. Brock added to his solid half by drawing an offensive pass-interference call against receiver DeAndre Hopkins on a deep ball late in the period.

October 6, 2013
No Patrick Willis as 49ers get set for Texans

SAN FRANCISCO - Patrick Willis and Nnamdi Asomugha will sit out a second straight game as they return from their respective injuries.

Willis, who suffered a groin strain on Sept. 22, warmed up for more than a half hour but never went at full speed. He consulted with strength coach Mark Uyeyama, head trainer Jeff Ferguson, and finally, Jim Harbaugh, before heading back into the 49ers' locker room. Michael Wilhoite will make his second-ever NFL start in his place.

In addition to Willis' absence, the 49ers will play without sack leader Aldon Smith. Dan Skuta will start in his place with rookie Corey Lemonier entering on passing downs.

Asomugha, meanwhile, seems close to recovering from a knee injury that also occurred Sept. 22 against the Colts. Tramaine Brock will serve as the team's No. 3 cornerback and should have a busy game against the Texans.

In the run-up to the game, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said the team's inside linebackers would be particularly challenged by the Texans offense, which uses plenty of misdirection and play action. Houston quarterback Matt Schaub also likes to throw to his tight ends, Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham, each of whom has three touchdowns on the season.

Marlon Moore is active after being inactive last week against the Rams. John Skelton will serve as the team's third quarterback.

WR Quinton Patton
WR/TE Chris Harper
QB John Skelton
CB Nnamdi Asomugha
LB Jermaine Cunningham
LB Patrick Willis
G Joe Looney

QB Case Keenum
WR Lestar Jean
OT Andrew Gardner
G Brandon Brooks
DL Tim Jamison
DE Sam Montgomer
LB Tim Dobbins

-- Matt Barrows

October 6, 2013
Shutdown means Whitner stuck with 'W'; 49ers like QB Freeman

The government shutdown just got personal for Donte Whitner. The 49ers safety had wanted to be introduced for this evening's game against the Texans with his new name, "Hitner," stenciled across his back. He filed the paperwork to change his surname in his native Ohio last week.

But according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the government shutdown means name changes like that can't be processed. Which means Whitner is stuck with his "W" until the morass in Washington, D.C. is fixed. Here's a Tweet this morning from Whitner:

October 5, 2013
Read option thriving across the NFL, but not in SF


Last year the 49ers' read-option offense tormented defenses and sent opponents scurrying to all corners of the nation in search of ways to stop it. Judging from the numbers, it looks like they found the antidote. According to research from Pro Football Focus (@PFF), the 49ers have averaged a piddly 1.1 ground yards when they've run the read-option this year. That includes both plays in which Colin Kaepernick keeps the ball and those in which he gives it up to a tailback.

Still, the read option is far from dormant across the NFL, according to the PFF figures. Other teams that have read-option-capable quarterbacks have been running it with success. It's become a component of the Oakland's offense now that Terrelle Pryor is leading it, and the Raiders average 7.7 yards with it. Philadelphia and new head coach Chip Kelly use the read-option more than any team and average 7.1 yards a carry. NFL teams are on pace to call twice as many read-option plays as last season, although the average yard per run is down from 2012.

So why haven't the 49ers been able to sustain the success they had in 2012? A big part - and the subject of a story in Sunday's Bee - is that opponents simply are better prepared for it. That is, Kaepernick and the read option were novelties last season. He's not a surprise this year, and defenses are arriving with a game plan designed to stop the read option.

Three other teams that used it heavily in 2012 - Carolina, Washington and Seattle - all have seen their averages dip through the first four games this season, though not as prominently as the 49ers' drop. It will be interesting to see whether the Raiders and Eagles can sustain their read-option success or whether NFL defenses will catch up with them, too.

MIA: 5 carries, 42 yards, 8.4-yard avg.
OAK: 21 carries, 162 yards, 7.7-yard avg.
PHI: 73 carries, 520 yards, 7.1-yard avg.
SEA 25 carries, 134 yards, 5.4-yard avg.
GB 1 carry, 5 yards, 5-yard avg.
TEN 1 carry, 5 yards, 5-yard avg.
NYJ 14 carries, 61 yards, 4.4-yard avg.
CAR 24 carries, 95 yards, 4-yard avg.
WAS 14 carries, 54 yards, 3.9-yard avg.
BUF 47 carries, 128 yards, 2.7-yard avg.
MIN 3 carries, 8 yards, 2.7-yard avg.
JAX 3 carries, 6 yards, 2-yard avg.
KC 5 carries, 10 yards, 2-yard avg.
SF 16 carries, 17 yards, 1.1-yard avg.
TB 1 carry, 1 yard, 1-yard avg.
CLV 3 carries, 2 yards, 0.7-yard avg.
Total: 256 carries,1250 yards, 4.9-yard avg.

BUF 13 carries, 108 yards, 8.3-yard avg.
BLT 6 carries, 46 yards, 7.7-yard avg.
PHI 3 carries, 23 yards, 7.7-yard avg.
MIA 10 carries, 75 yards, 7.5-yard avg.
SEA 50 carries, 374 yards, 7.5-yard avg.
CAR 142 carries, 856 yards, 6-yard avg.
WAS 134 carries, 798 yards, 6-yard avg.
ARZ 4 carries, 22 yards, 5.5-yard avg.
CIN 3 carries, 15 yards, 5-yard avg.
SF 49 carries, 220 yards, 4.5-yard avg.
NYJ 32 carries, 128 yards, 4-yard avg.
PIT 1 carry, 3 yards, 3-yard avg.
OAK 2 carries, 4 yards, 2-yard avg
SD 1 carry, 2 yards, 2-yard avg.
MIN 1 carry, 1 yard 1-yard avg.
IND 1 carry, 0 yards 0-yard avg.
TEN 5 carries, -14 yards, -2.8-yard avg.
Total: 457 carries, 2661 yards, 5.8-yard avg.

Source: Pro Football Focus
* regular season only

-- Matt Barrows

October 4, 2013
Willis a true question mark for Sunday; full team injury reports

Jim Harbaugh's injury designation of choice -- questionable. It means there's a 50 percent chance a player will be ready for the following game, and because of that it keeps everyone, including the upcoming opponent, guessing. If Harbaugh could list his entire squad as questionable, he would.

In Patrick Willis' case, however, it's an accurate designation. The 49ers inside linebacker missed last week's game against the Rams with a groin injury and he's been limited in practice this week. The inside linebackers will be a critical component of Sunday's game against the Texans. And yet the 49ers would be unwise to play Willis if they thought there was a chance he'd exacerbate the injury and miss additional time.

That is, Willis is a true game-time decision.

Out: WR Quinton Patton (ffoot)
Questionable: CB Nnamdi Asomugha (knee), T Anthony Davis (shoulder), TE Vernon Davis (hamstring), DT Ray McDonald (ankle, ankle), RB Bruce Miller (quadricep), CB Carlos Rogers (knee), DT Justin Smith (shoulder), LB Patrick Willis (groin)
Probable: TE Demarcus Dobbs (calf), G Mike Iupati (shoulder), T Joe Staley (hamstring, ankle), WR Kyle Williams (knee)

Out: G Brandon Brooks (toe), LB Tim Dobbins (hamstring)
Questionable: T Duane Brown (toe), WR Andre Johnson (shin)
Probable: LB Bryan Braman (hamstring, shoulder), LB Brian Cushing (concussion), TE Owen Daniels (knee), RB Arian Foster (thumb, back), TE Garrett Graham (hip, groin), RB Greg Jones (foot, groin), CB Johnathan Joseph (not injury related), CB Brice McCain (knee), C Chris Myers (biceps), T Derek Newton (knee), S Eddie Pleasant (hamstring), WR DeVier Posey (achilles), S Ed Reed (hip, abdomen), LB Darryl Sharpton (foot, hip), G Wade Smith (knee), RB Ben Tate (shoulder), DE J.J. Watt (groin, nose)

-- Matt Barrows

October 4, 2013
Linebacker limbo: Cushing to play for Texans. What about Willis?

The Texans will have their star inside linebacker, Brian Cushing, on Sunday after he passed the last of his post-concussion tests today. The question now is whether the 49ers will have theirs'. Patrick Willis, who missed last week's game against the Rams with a groin injury, was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday. Vic Fangio called Willis' availability "better than 50-50."

Cushing, meanwhile, leads the Texans in tackles. He wasn't on the field in the fourth quarter Sunday when the Seahawks began their comeback and eventually won the game. San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman called Cushing a "sideline-sideline" player who leads Houston's linebacking corps.

The Texans also are likely to have left tackle Duane Brown, who has been out with a turf toe injury. Willis appears to be the only question mark for the 49ers. Receiver Quinton Patton won't play because of a broken foot. Look for him to be back after the team's Nov. 3 bye.

- Matt Barrows

October 4, 2013
49ers get better performance from new Swiss Army Knife


The 49ers have a new Swiss-Army Knife. In recent seasons, that was the description Jim Harbaugh gave to Delanie Walker, who was part tight end, part fullback, part wide receiver in the 49ers offense and who finished fifth on the team in receiving yards.

Walker is now a Tennessee Titan - he already has two touchdown catches - which means that his unique, multifaceted role had to be taken on by others, mostly fullback Bruce Miller. Walker was on the field for 57 percent of the plays last season. Miller has been in on 53 percent of the snaps through the first four games and has been lining up in some of the spots Walker once occupied
"Bruce is like our Swiss Army knife, he does everything from special teams to everything on offense," quarterback Colin Kaepernick said this week. "Whether it's blocking, running, catching passes, he's someone that really makes this offense go, and he's a vital part of it. So as he develops, and as he continues to get better, our offense will continue to get better as well."

Like a number of offensive players, Miller struggled during the 49ers' recent, two-game losing streak. And it was no coincidence that the 49ers signed another fullback, Owen Marecic, during that stretch.

But Miller bounced back strongly last Thursday against the Rams. (And afterward, the 49ers released Marecic). He blazed ahead of Frank Gore on all of Gore's longest runs, including the 4th-and-1 play that ended with Gore racing into the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown.

October 3, 2013
Fangio: Texans are tall challenge for 49ers ILBs, and Willis is iffy

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Vic Fangio today said his inside linebackers have the toughest task Sunday against a Houston Texans offense that is committed to the run, loves play action and isn't shy about going down-field - sometimes deep down field - to their tight ends.

Adding to the challenge is that Fangio isn't sure which of his inside linebackers will play. Patrick Willis is making progress from the groin injury that kept him out of last week's game in St. Louis. But Willis spent the beginning of Thursday's practice rehabilitating on a side field and is iffy for Sunday's game.

"I think Pat's getting a lot better, making great progress," Fangio said. "I think the chances are better than 50-50 (that Willis plays), but we don't know for sure yet."

If the 49ers remain cautious with Willis, Michael Wilhoite would make his second straight start next to NaVorro Bowman. Wilhoite today said he would prepare this week as if he was the starter, and he agreed with Fangio that the balanced Texans offense presents a tall challenge.

Wilhoite noted that the Texans looks for tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham not only in the short and intermediate passing game but also for big plays as well. Both Daniels and Graham average more than 10 yards and catch and they have six touchdowns between them.

October 3, 2013
Dissecting a QB decision: What was Harbaugh thinking when he added Skelton?


Jim Harbaugh is the quarterback whisperer, the man who discovered Josh Johnson, who built Andrew Luck and who resurrected Alex Smith. His instincts regarding all things quarterback have been spot on since he became a head coach.

By all accounts, the decision to sign John Skelton and expose rookie B.J. Daniels was Harbaugh's. He's built up so much quarterback credit, we have to assume he's doing the right thing for the team.

But we don't have to buy his explanation.

Harbaugh said Skelton was added to the mix because the 49ers needed a veteran backup with the starting experience, which Daniels, being a seventh-round draft pick, did not have.

But the 49ers already had a veteran backup in Colt McCoy.

Most teams that keep three quarterbacks on the roster have a starter, a backup and a young player they try to develop. The 49ers had that exact dynamic, but Harbaugh wasn't content. The irony, of course, is that he wasn't unhappy with the quarterback who was jettisoned, Daniels, but with McCoy, the guy who remains in the No. 2 spot.

The late-August quarterback competition between McCoy and Scott Tolzien, the signing of Seneca Wallace, the restructuring of McCoy's contract and now this, the addition of Skelton, all point to one thing - Harbaugh is uneasy with the prospect of McCoy running the team if something were to happen to starter Colin Kaepernick.

October 2, 2013
49ers injury report: Willis, Asomugha return to practice

Linebacker Patrick Willis and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha were back at practice today in a limited fashion after missing Thursday's game against the Rams. After a long rest, the only two players on the active roster to sit out practice altogether were tackle Anthony Davis (shoulder) and receiver Quinton Patton (foot).

Patton, who broke a bone in his foot Thursday, has been declared out, as he will be at least until the team's bye week.

Willis, who suffered a groin injury Sept. 22 against Indianapolis, said he was making progress but that he was still sore and fighting through the pain of his injury. Look for him to be listed as questionable Friday and to be a game-time decision Sunday. Asomugha, meanwhile, is dealing with a knee injury. He and Tramaine Brock are in the running for the No. 3 cornerback job. Brock played well at that spot Thursday.

Out: WR Quinton Patton (foot)

Did not participate:T Anthony Davis (shoulder)

Limited: CB Nnamdi Asomugha (knee), TE Vernon Davis (hamstring), DT Ray McDonald (ankle, ankle), RB Bruce Miller (quadricep), CB Carlos Rogers (knee), DT Justin Smith (shoulder), LB Patrick Willis (groin)

Full: TE Demarcus Dobbs (calf), G Mike Iupati (shoulder), T Joe Staley (hamstring, ankle), WR Kyle Williams (knee)

Did not participate: G Brandon Brooks (toe), LB Brian Cushing (concussion), TE Owen Daniels (not injury related), LB Tim Dobbins (hamstring), WR Andre Johnson (not injury related), RB Greg Jones (foot, groin), CB Johnathan Joseph (not injury related), LB Darryl Sharpton (foot, hip), G Wade Smith (knee), DE J.J. Watt (groin, nose)

Limited: LB Bryan Braman (hamstring, shoulder), T Duane Brown (toe), C Chris Myers (biceps), S Ed Reed (hip, abdomen)

Full: RB Arian Foster (thumb, back), TE Garrett Graham (hip, groin), CB Brice McCain (knee), T Derek Newton (knee), S Eddie Pleasant (hamstring), WR DeVier Posey (achilles), RB Ben Tate (shoulder)

-- Matt Barrows

October 2, 2013
Seahawks snatch QB B.J. Daniels off of waivers


Pete Carroll last month said the Seahawks were eying quarterback B.J. Daniels during the draft only to watch the 49ers come in and snatch him up in the seventh round. On Wednesday, Carroll and the Seahawks returned the favor.

Seattle put in a waiver claim on Daniels, released by the 49ers on Tuesday, and he is now part of Seattle's 53-man roster. Daniels is the exact same height as the Seahawks' starting quarterback, Russell Wilson, and the two have similar arm strength and scrambling ability.

The 49ers selected Daniels in the seventh round, originally giving him a jack-of-all-trades role that included running back, receiver and punt returner. During the offseason, however, it became clear that Daniels had enough talent to play quarterback and quarterback only. He threw three touchdown passes in the preseason and finished the summer session with a higher passer rating than Colin Kaepernick, Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien.

Said Carroll before the 49ers and Seahawks met last month: "We thought he was a nice player and interesting guy to get on the team, and thought a lot of him. We feel like we know him, and if he has a chance to play at least we have some background in him. We studied him very carefully and all that. But we think a lot of his ability."

The 49ers released Daniels Tuesday and signed John Skelton to a one-year deal today. Jim Harbaugh said the team wanted multiple veterans on the roster and that they intended to add Daniels to the practice squad. Said Harbaugh today before the Seahawks' move was known: "We'll be hopeful that B.J. will return and trust that we have a plan for him and a process of developing him and getting him to play in the National Football League as well."

Asked why the 49ers needed two veteran backups -- Colt McCoy being the other -- Harbaugh said that some teams like to keep two veterans on the roster, others prefer three. "We're one of the teams that like to go for three," he said. It should be noted that two of San Francisco's three quarterbacks in 2011 were rookies -- Kaepernick and Tolzien.

Skelton has started 17 games over the last three seasons for Arizona, including three against the 49ers. He's thrown 15 touchdowns against 25 interceptions over his NFL career and has a 63 passer rating.

-- Matt Barrows

October 2, 2013
Name game: 49ers' Whitner to knock "W" from last name


SANTA CLARA - If you want to change your name in the state of Ohio, it will cost you $27. Donte Whitner discovered that this week when he filed the paperwork to legally drop the "W" from his last name. The 49ers' safety wants "Hitner" on the name plate of his jersey because, after all, that's what he does for a living.

"That's my game," he said Wednesday. "...That's what I do. That's my last name and removing a letter makes it pretty cool."

Whitner said he's been contemplating the change for some time. But two events occurred this week that convinced him to make it official. First, he got the go-ahead from his mother, Deborah Robinson, who initially didn't like the idea when her son broached it this summer but who recently gave him her blessing.

Second, he said the name change was a protest of sorts against an NFL that he feels is outlawing the big hits for which he is known. Whitner has been penalized for unnecessary roughness in each of the 49ers' last two games.

One of the hits that drew a flag, against Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw, ultimately was deemed legal by the NFL. The other one, which occurred Thursday against Rams wideout Chris Givens, landed Whitner a $21,000 fine. "The name change does have something to do with everything that is going on," he said.

Whitner can change his name for only $27 but there may be an additional cost. The NFL and its merchandise partner, Nike, require him to purchase all of the jerseys already on the market that have "Whitner" on the back.

Whitner said he's willing to buy them. "Depending on how many there are," he said. "I haven't really seen a whole lot around Candlestick. I wouldn't think there should be (a lot). Unless somebody's hiding them."

-- Matt Barrows

October 2, 2013
Read-option ready: Even Houston installed offensive package this offseason


The Houston Texans have one of the least athletically gifted starting quarterbacks in the NFL. But even they installed the read-option into their offense this offseason.

It wasn't because they wanted to give Matt Schaub an opportunity to run this season, coach Gary Kubiak explained this morning on a conference call. It's because the Texans looked at their schedule and saw two teams with read-option capabilities, Seattle and San Francisco, looming back to back and wanted to give their defense as much practice as possible.

"I just think it's something that's going on right now and something you have to work on," Kubiak said.

It's a good example of why the read option has been far less prevalent -- and less successful -- this season as opposed to last year. Teams like the 49ers certainly are leery of exposing their quarterbacks to big hits when they are on the run. More than that, however, it seems as if every opponent spent the offseason preparing to defend it. It's simply not catching any defenses off guard in 2013.

As a result, the read option has not been a big part of the 49ers' offense through the first four games. Still, Kubiak noted that an athletic quarterback doesn't necessarily have to be in the read option to do damage.

October 1, 2013
49ers notes: Whitner to appeal $21K fine for hit on Rams receiver


Donte Whitner said he would appeal the $21,000 fine he received today for a hit he delivered against Rams receiver Chris Givens late in Thursday's game. Whitner was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play, and he said Givens told him afterward he thought it was a clean hit.

"If the guy that was hit thought it was legal, then I don't know what else to do," Whitner said.

According to the rule book, the penalty was justified. Because he was descending with the ball, Givens could not protect himself and was considered, under NFL rules, a "defenseless player." In that instance, hits above his shoulder are not permitted.

Whitner drove his shoulder into Givens' facemask, dislodging the ball and causing an incompletion. But Whitner noted he was aiming much lower and that Givens dropped into his strike zone. He said his intent was not an above-the-shoulder-pads hit.

"I was going for the midsection, where the ball is, with my shoulder," he said. "You can actually see me turn and lay off the hit. If I actually would have ran through the guy, then I think I would deserve what I got. But I'll appeal it and see what they say."

Whitner, who is in his eighth NFL season, said he has never been fined for unnecessary roughness and was surprised by the steep fine. "You see $21,000 and you would think I knocked the guy out," he said. He was not fined for a similar hit last Sunday on Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw that also drew an unnecessary roughness penalty.

October 1, 2013
Sources: 49ers to add QB John Skelton after releasing B.J. Daniels


The 49ers today made a surprise move - parting ways with preseason standout quarterback B.J. Daniels in the hope they can add him to the practice squad on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the team plans to add veteran quarterback John Skelton, who faced the 49ers when he was with the Cardinals, to the 53-man roster, according to two sources.

Skelton, 25, started 17 games for Arizona during the last three seasons and has a 63.0 passer rating. He worked out for the 49ers this month and for the Titans this week. One of his starts last year came against the 49ers. He threw an interception and was sacked four times in a 24-3 loss in October. However, he also earned a victory against the 49ers in 2011, throwing three touchdowns in a 21-19 win. In that game he relieved Kevin Kolb, who was knocked out of the contest early with a concussion.
The 6-6, 250-pound Skelton spent the offseason with the Bengals.

Daniels, meanwhile, was a seventh-round pick in April and showed real promise during the preseason. There was a thought that he could emerge as the 49ers' no. 2 quarterback this season. But it now appears as if Skelton could move into that role ahead of Colt McCoy. In order to sign Daniels to the practice squad, he would first have to clear waivers, which is not a given.

Last month, for instance, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said his team was eying Daniels, who is similar in stature and maneuverability to Seattle starter Russell Wilson, during the draft.


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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