The San Francisco 49ers are off to a rough start sitting at 1-2 after another upsetting outing against the Indianapolis Colts. They await the St. Louis rams on Thursday night with a depleted squad and many issues surrounding the offense. Who will step up in emergency reserve duty for the 49ers? How will the offense get more production? These are major question marks Jim Harbaugh must address this coming week.
In the game against the Colts Patrick Willis (Groin) Nnamdi Asomugha (Knee) and special teams ace Raymond Ventrone (Concussion) all had to leave the game and are doubtful for the upcoming contest. The Niners squad bears a a resemblance to the team in the movie “The Replacements” with their patchwork bunch heading into week 4. There are several untested players that will be asked to fill in for key contributors and not skip a beat against the Rams.
Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier face the impossible task of filling in for Aldon Smith at the 3-4 ROLB position. It remains to be seen how long Smith will be absent as he is admitted into rehab for alcohol abuse. Skuta is the more experienced veteran and is listed as the starter, while Lemonier will be called upon as the pass rush specialist. The Rams will undoubtedly be scheming around the two inexperienced Linebackers.
Willis suffered a groin injury in the loss to the Colts and his status isn’t looking good with little recovery time.Third year undrafted special teamer Michael Wilhoite will have to suffice at the “Sam” Inside Linebacker role pending the return of Willis. Fortunately for the 49ers defense lining up opposite of him is Navarro Bowman, which makes the potential loss of Willis a little less painful. Wilhoite has played mostly special teams and mop up duty throughout his career and this week will be a big opportunity to prove that he is not just a special teams player.
An ankle injury late in the 4th quarter to Asomugha puts him in jeopardy to miss the Thursday night game as well. The next corner on the depth chart is Tramaine Brock, who has showed solid coverage skills in his brief action with the Niners. Nnamdi clearly isn’t the same player as he was with the Raiders and Brock should fill in adequately. Corner Darryl Morris, another undrafted player in his first year out of Texas St. was selected to the active roster instead of a healthy Lamichael James.
James was given the green light by the medical staff and is finally recovered from a strained MCL suffered in the final preseason game. In a surprise move Harbaugh went with the unproven Morris to fill the spot vacated by Aldon Smith. James has the ability to take it to the house on any given occassion so the motives of the coaching staff must be answered. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter are a dynamic duo, but you can never have to many running backs.
After the week 1 passing clinic over the Green Bay Packers the fans were thinking “Michael Crabtree who? We have Anquan Boldin.” That notion was quickly diminished after consecutive horrendous offensive performances from Colin Kaepernick and Co. Marlon Moore and Quinton Patton haven’t showed up after stellar preseason outings, while Kyle Williams is more suitable as a #3 option in the slot. Jon Baldwin was recently acquired through trade from the Chiefs and his large frame (6’4, 230) could wreak havoc for the Rams secondary if activated. Word out of the Niners camp is that Baldwin has impressed in practice.
It will be a true testament to the 49ers depth if the backups are able to produce in the absence of their fallen counterparts. ”The Replacements” will be called upon in a big way come Thursday night and a victory would build a lot of confidence moving forward.