Injuries are part of any sport, especially football. The San Francisco 49ers have been victimized, like quite a few other Super Bowl contenders, by injuries to some of their key players and backups. One position in particular that is the cause of most concern right now is the defensive line, specifically anybody not named Justin Smith.
The Niners lost starting nose tackle Ian Williams to a season ending broken ankle week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks. They’ve also suffered injuries to defensive end Ray McDonald (Biceps injury), as well as backup nose tackle Glen Dorsey to a hamstring injury. Dorsey and McDonald both seem to be alright now. McDonald played last Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals with his sore biceps and the Niners have said that’s it’s not the same injury that Justin Smith needed to have surgery for last year. Dorsey is also playing again but the Niners are taking precaution with him for a couple of weeks to avoid further injury. The Niners will be starting third string nose tackle Tony-Jerod Eddie , who was an undrafted free agent rookie last season out of Texas A&M. He spent most of his NFL career on the practice squad and is now getting thrust into action because of all the injuries.
The Niners made it a point to improve their defensive line depth this offseason and they are looking really smart for doing so as they have a third string nose tackle starting and they also have three other defensive linemen waiting for an opportunity as well. All three are rookies; Quinton Dial who was a 5th round pick out of Alabama this past season, Tank Carradine out of Florida State who was a second round pick, and practice squad call up Mike Purcell, the undrafted free agent rookie out of the University of Wyoming.
Of the three, Purcell seems the most likely to play this Sunday as Dial and Carradine are still recovering from injuries and Vic Fangio likes what he’s seen from Purcell. “Michael is obviously ahead of those guys. He had all of the offseason work. He had all of training camp and played in preseason games. And, 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. He’s versatile. He’s experienced when you compare him to Quinton and Tank. So, he’s ready to go if needed.”
Those words certainly indicate that Purcell will get an opportunity if Jerod-Eddie doesn’t perform well. Even though the Niners have had a lot of injuries they are hanging tough by forcing turnovers, giving the ball to Frank Gore, and playing smash-mouth power football until starting wide receivers Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree return from their injuries. Once those two return, it’s possible that we will see an offense similar to what we saw last week against the Arizona Cardinals where Colin Kaepernick is throwing the ball downfield and the Niners are getting big plays in the passing game, which is something they’ve struggled with for most of the season.
Getting back to Manningham and Crabtree, Manningham is closer to returning than Crabtree, as Manningham returned to practice this week for the Niners and it’s not out of the question that he will play in the next couple of weeks. The Niners have said on numerous occasions that Crabtree will be back around mid-to late November, which will be around week 12 or so. This will be perfect for the last quarter of the season and the playoff run. Having these guys come back bodes well for Kaepernick as he only has one reliable receiver to throw the ball to with Anquan Boldin. He also has Pro-Bowl tight end Vernon Davis, who looks to be hitting his stride the last two weeks. Davis is coming off his best game as a pro where he had 8 catches for a career high 180 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Even though the Niners have suffered a lot of injuries, they aren’t making excuses. They are sticking to their next man up philosophy that Jim Harbaugh instituted when he first arrived in San Francisco. The Niners are sitting at 4-2 going into Tennessee this weekend and it’s possible to see the Niners be 6-2 or 5-3 going into their bye week. That won’t be too bad knowing that they have reinforcements coming and that the second half of the season is when teams want to start playing their best football. That record will also keep them in the running for home-field advantage throughout the postseason as they are a game and half behind Seattle and a game behind New Orleans at the moment.