NFC West: Will Tukuafu

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Final Power Ranking: 4
Preseason Power Ranking: 2

Biggest surprise: The impact that Michael Crabtree's injury and then his return had on the team. When Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles in May, the 49ers knew it would affect their offense. But his absence was felt dramatically during the 11 games he was out. The 49ers had essentially nothing behind receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis in the passing game. However, when he returned Dec. 1, the 49ers were instantly a better, more varied, dangerous offense. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was more confident. The difference was stark.

Biggest disappointment: The loss at New Orleans on Nov. 17. The 49ers appeared to have sealed the game when linebacker Ahmad Brooks sacked and forced New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees to fumble late. But Brooks was called for a questionable personal foul. The Saints rallied to win. It was a major storyline in the NFL that week. Had the 49ers won, they would have finished 13-3, won a tiebreaker over Seattle in the NFC West and would not have had to play at Seattle in the playoffs.

Biggest need: The 49ers are deep. They don't have many holes. But they can use another young receiver. Boldin is 33 and a free agent. Fourth-round pick Quinton Patton looks promising, but San Francisco will likely take a speed receiver early in the draft. Expect the team to take a cornerback fairly early as well. The 49ers need to develop a young player there.

Team MVP: Inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman. The 25-year-old had an amazing season. He is an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He was dominant in virtually every game. He is a special playmaker. It was a sad sight seeing him being carted off in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss at Seattle with a major knee injury. Bowman is expected back next season. The 49ers need him.

SEATTLE -- As expected, the San Francisco 49ers are going to be in excellent health for the start of Sunday's NFC championship at Seattle.

The team's two injury question marks -- cornerback Carlos Rogers and fullback Will Tukuafu -- are active and will play. Rogers missed the past two games with a hamstring injury. Tukuafu missed most of the Carolina game with a knee injury.

Rogers will be the nickel cornerback. Perrish Cox, who played well when Rogers was out, will be the fourth cornerback.

Veteran Eric Wright is inactive because Rogers is active and because Cox beat him out two weeks ago. The 49ers expected more from Wright this season, but they see the younger Cox as a more reliable option.
Carlos Rogers is hopeful to finally play in a playoff game this month.

The cornerback told reporters he hopes to practice this week and barring a setback, he expects to play at Seattle in the NFC Championship Game Sunday. Rogers missed the games at Green Bay and at Carolina with a hamstring injury he suffered at Arizona in Week 17. Rogers hasn't practiced since.

Perrish Cox took Rogers' role in his absence.

Meanwhile, fullback Will Tukuafu told reporters he is day-to-day. He missed most of the Carolina game with a knee injury. He will likely be a game-time decision. Tukuafu shared time with Anthony Dixon. If he can't play, rookie tight end Vance McDonald will likely share time with Dixon as he did against Carolina.

Meanwhile, the 49ers signed receivers David Reed and DeMarco Sampson and defensive tackle Christian Tupou to future contracts.
The San Francisco 49ers' injury watch this week will not be relegated to cornerback Carlos Rogers. Fullback Will Tukuafu's health is also in question as the 49ers prepare to play at Seattle in the NFC title game on Sunday.

The 294-pound Tukuafu left the win against Carolina on Sunday with a knee injury. Monday, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said he was encouraged by Tukuafu’s movement. He had an MRI Monday. A source with knowledge of the situation said Tukuafu is day-to-day, but there is no precise recovery time.

So, it is unclear if Tukuafu can play. Because the 49ers lean on the conservative side when it comes to injuries, the odds could be against Tukuafu playing Sunday. It will probably be a game-time decision.

Tukuafu was splitting time with Anthony Dixon after Bruce Miller was lost for the season in December with a broken scapula. Dixon and tight end Vance McDonald, who took over Tukuafu’s role, will play Sunday if Tukuafu can’t.

For Rogers, Wednesday will be key. The cornerback has missed the past two games with a hamstring injury he suffered in Week 17. He hasn’t practiced since. Rogers and the team have said the injury isn’t overly serious, yet he has not been able to get on the practice field. If he can practice this week, he can probably play at Seattle. Perrish Cox has taken his place as the nickel cornerback.

49ers' Mike Iupati returns

December, 23, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO -- Mike Iupati is back.

The San Francisco 49ers' standout left guard is active and is set to start Monday night against Atlanta. Iupati has missed the past four games with a sprained knee. Adam Snyder has taken his place.

However, backup receiver Mario Manningham is inactive. He has played the past six games after being out since last December with a knee injury. He missed two days of practice last week with a knee issue and because of an illness. Manningham's play has dwindled in the past three games with star receiver Michael Crabtree back.

Rookie Quinton Patton will get an opportunity. He has played since he broke his foot in Week 4.

Another interesting note about tonight's 46-man roster is tight end Derek Carrier is inactive for first time in a month. Newly signed backup fullback Will Tukuafu is active. He is 293 pounds. He could be a short-yardage factor.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – There is no doubt the San Francisco 49ers will miss fullback Bruce Miller, who is out for the season with a broken scapula.

However, coach Jim Harbaugh made it clear Thursday the team is confident that Miller's backup, Anthony Dixon, will perform well in the role.

“Anthony Dixon will step up and do a great job, as he has been doing in that backup fullback role,” Harbaugh said. “You never have to worry about AD’s effort, and I look forward to watching him compete.”

Harbaugh said the newly signed Will Tukuafu will primarily be a fullback, but added that he can play defensive line in am emergency. When Tukuafu was previously with the 49ers, over the past three years, he was primarily a defensive tackle who dabbled as a fullback.

In other 49ers notes:
  • Harbaugh had high praise for quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s ability to throw to his left. High praise. Check it out: “I’ve never seen anybody throw to their left on the run better than Colin. Comparative to the universe of quarterbacks. It’s a rare comparison.”
  • Here’s Kaepernick, a native of Wisconsin who moved to California as a child, on memories of Candlestick Park: “I was a Packers fan growing up, so don’t quite have the same memories.”
  • Mel Kiper Jr. believes 49ers safety Eric Reid has been the 11th-best rookie Insider in the NFL this season. There is no question, Reid has become a vital part of a great defense.
  • Can Michael Crabtree be trusted as a Week 16 fantasy play?
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- As the San Francisco 49ers head down the stretch, Colin Kaepernick is confident of this: His two starting wide receivers will do everything they can to get the ball and make plays.

The 49ers’ passing offense clearly has received a jolt in the past three games since Michael Crabtree returned from a torn Achilles he suffered in May. Every aspect of the passing game is better. Kaepernick said an enjoyable byproduct is a friendly competition that has developed between Crabtree and wily veteran Anquan Boldin.

[+] EnlargeAnquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezThe competition between Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree only helps the 49ers' offense.
“I would say it’s more opportunistic,” said Kaepernick of the 49ers’ passing game this month. “I feel the competition between them is something that’s going to raise not just their play, but everybody’s. From Vernon [Davis] to Vance [McDonald] to Mario [Manningham] to Quinton [Patton]. The competition that they have as far as ‘When I catch the ball, I’m trying to score.’ I mean, they have times in practice where they’re like, ‘Hey, throw me the ball, I’m going to do this.’ That’s something you love to see as an offensive player. Two players that challenge each other in a good way. 'I want to see if I can make a better play than you.'”

Kaepernick said he loves the energy of the passing game right now, adding that he has no problem with his receivers clamoring for the ball.

“As a quarterback, those are all things that go into ‘OK, this is someone I can really rely on,'" Kaepernick said. “'I can put the ball in the air, and he’s going to be where he needs to be.’ As a quarterback, that’s something you love. You have that freedom to put the ball in the air.”

Kaepernick did say the team will have to adjust in the running game without fullback Bruce Miller. He broke his scapula at Tampa Bay on Sunday and is likely out for the season. The 49ers are finalizing a deal to bring back defensive tackle/fullback Will Tukuafu, who should back up Anthony Dixon. The 49ers also can use some other alignments perhaps including rookie tight end Derek Carrier.

“We're going to have to see how it plays out,” Kaepernick said. “That's going to be kind of what we figure out this week, I think. Is our game plan going to change? Do we feel more comfortable in a different set because Bruce isn't in there now? Is it something where we have to revamp different things? But I think for the most part we'll stay true to who we are and continue doing what we've been doing.”

Meanwhile, Kaepernick was asked about the team’s habit of burning early timeouts or getting delay of game penalties. Kaepernick said trying to be perfect on drives is the main objective and if taking a small step back helps the team complete drives with points, he’s all for it.

“I mean, for us, if we have to save our timeouts for the end of the game and we’re behind now and we’re using our timeouts to try to catch up, whereas if we could use them earlier and get those points so we’re ahead at the end of the game,” he said. “We feel like that’s a better situation for us.”

49ers try out DT Kyle Love

September, 17, 2013
The San Francisco 49ers did indeed take a look at a defensive tackle on Tuesday, but have not as yet made a move to fill a spot left vacant by injury.

The 49ers worked out Kyle Love, who started 25 games over the past two seasons for New England. San Francisco needs depth at the defensive-tackle position with Ian Williams out for the year with a broken ankle -- and could turn to Love at some point.

The 49ers did make two moves Tuesday, signing fullback Owen Marecic and reaching an injury settlement with defensive tackle Will Tukuafu. He could be brought back later in the season.
Justin Smith's participation in individual drills at practice Thursday is the strongest sign yet that the San Francisco 49ers' injured defensive lineman could play in the team's divisional-round playoff game Jan. 12.

Smith has a triceps injury. He wore an elbow brace Thursday.

The 49ers have adjusted their rotation along the defensive line since Smith suffered the injury during a Week 15 victory at New England. The chart shows snap counts for the 49ers' defensive linemen on a per-game basis since Week 14.

Participating in individual drills is a positive first step. The 49ers will monitor Smith to see how the injury responds to the work.

The San Francisco 49ers have not drafted a true 3-4 defensive lineman since 2009.

They've taken outside linebackers such as Aldon Smith. They've taken a college defensive end and turned him into a fullback (Bruce Miller).

But when it comes to drafting and developing depth behind what was the NFL's oldest starting defensive line entering this season, the 49ers have taken their chances.

The subject is relevant now that the team is waiting to see whether Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Smith can play through a partially torn triceps tendon at age 33. The 49ers have been outscored by 50 points over their past five-plus quarters, nearly all without Smith. The defensive end's absence wasn't the only factor in the struggles, but his absence has hurt.

Ricky Jean Francois, a seventh-round choice in 2009, is starting in Smith's usual spot. The 49ers think Smith will be able to play in the postseason, but they don't know whether his injured triceps will hold up. They also cannot know to what degree the injury will diminish Smith's effectiveness.

Smith's dominant play against New Orleans in the playoffs last season proved critical to the 49ers' success. His absence leaves the team with Ray McDonald, Isaac Sopoaga, Jean Francois, Will Tukuafu, Ian Williams and Tony Jerod-Eddie on the defensive line. Tukuafu has been playing fullback. Jerod-Eddie signed from the practice squad.

NFC West: Injury situations that matter

December, 19, 2012
Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals did not list running back Beanie Wells on their participation report after he played 46 percent of the snaps Sunday. Wells scored three touchdowns against Detroit and appeared to be moving well. The team had listed him on its injury report in each of the past four weeks, first with a toe injury and later for knee trouble.

Fullback Anthony Sherman (knee), tackle Nate Potter (knee), defensive lineman Ronald Talley (ankle), nose tackle Dan Williams (hamstring), cornerback Greg Toler (hamstring), defensive end Calais Campbell (calf), guard Mike Gibson (calf), linebacker Quentin Groves (foot) and tight end Rob Housler (knee) were limited. Receiver Early Doucet (concussion), safety Rashad Johnson (hamstring) and safety James Sanders (calf) did not practice.

St. Louis Rams: Cornerback Cortland Finnegan (thigh), cornerback Bradley Fletcher (illness), center Scott Wells (knee), running back Steven Jackson (illness), linebacker James Laurinaitis (back) and defensive end Robert Quinn (illness) did not practice Wednesday.

The Rams did not list receiver Danny Amendola on their injury report, a change from recent weeks. He played 75 percent of the offensive snaps against Minnesota despite the foot injury that had sidelined him previously. Amendola caught six passes for 58 yards. He averaged 1.3 yards after the catch, a season low, but he made five first downs on those six catches.

San Francisco 49ers: Defensive end Justin Smith (elbow) and outside linebacker Clark Haggans (shoulder) did not practice. Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (shoulder), cornerback Tarell Brown (shoulder), linebacker Tavares Gooden (ribs), receiver Mario Manningham (shoulder), running back Bruce Miller (shoulder), linebacker Aldon Smith (shoulder) and defensive lineman Will Tukuafu (concussion) did not practice Wednesday.

Smith's status is a key variable given his 185-game starting streak and the 49ers' injury situation at the position. Other teams running 3-4 defenses tend to carry six or seven linemen on their 53-man rosters. The 49ers had greater flexibility when Tukuafu was healthy and before tight end Demarcus Dobbs, a former defensive lineman, landed on injured reserve. I found it telling -- concerning might be a better word -- that Smith returned to the game against New England for just one play before departing. He's as tough and durable as they come.

Kicker David Akers (pelvis), guard Alex Boone (knee), linebacker NaVorro Bowman (shoulder), running back Frank Gore (wrist), guard Mike Iupati (shoulder), cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee) and linebacker Patrick Willis (shoulder) were full participants.

Seattle Seahawks: Defensive tackle Alan Branch (ankle), defensive end Jason Jones (knee), running back Leon Washington (illness), receiver Sidney Rice (knee), cornerback Walter Thurmond (hamstring) and cornerback Marcus Trufant (hamstring) did not practice. Running back Marshawn Lynch (back) was limited.

The already diminished depth at cornerback would become a bigger issue if the NFL were to suspend starter Richard Sherman following his hearing Friday regarding a four-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. The league generally announces suspensions early enough in the week for teams to adjust their rosters in time for practices, however.

NFC West: Injury situations that matter

November, 7, 2012
Arizona Cardinals: Running back Beanie Wells is practicing for the first time since suffering a turf-toe injury and landing on the injured-reserve list with a designation for return. He expects to play Nov. 25, in which case Wells would miss one more game. Arizona has a bye in Week 10, followed by a game at Atlanta. Tight end Todd Heap's knee injury is in the news this week amid suggestions that the Cardinals think he should have returned long ago. Quarterback Kevin Kolb did some limited throwing this week, but he's not yet ready to return from injured ribs. The Cardinals do not have to submit an injury report this week. They'll be healthier upon returning from the bye, at least.

St. Louis Rams: Left tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) and receiver Danny Amendola (shoulder) remain on course to return against San Francisco in Week 10. Both were limited in practice, as were backup left tackle Wayne Hunter (back) and linebacker Mario Haggan (thigh). Center Scott Wells (foot) is practicing on a limited basis, opening a three-week window for activation. The Rams signed Wells to a lucrative contract in free agency with the expectation Wells would take pressure off quarterback Sam Bradford by handling more of the protection calls. The center-quarterback relationship was supposed to help Bradford. Instead, the Rams head to San Francisco with backups at center and left guard. Saffold figures to be rusty if he plays. The 49ers' Aldon Smith and Justin Smith won't let him ease back into things. Safety Darian Stewart (knee), defensive end Eugene Sims (knee) and linebacker Justin Cole (illness) did not practice.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers were healthy going into the bye. They are healthier coming out of it. The team had not yet released injury-related information following practice Wednesday as this item posted. Quarterback Alex Smith's finger was obviously healed going into the bye. He completed 18 of 19 passes against Arizona after struggling some over the previous two games. The week off had to help running back Frank Gore as well. He suffered a rib injury against Seattle in Week 7. Update: The 49ers listed linebacker Tavares Gooden (elbow), Gore (hand), guard Daniel Kilgore (concussion), punter Andy Lee (hand), receiver Mario Manningham (shoulder), Smith (finger) and defensive lineman Will Tukuafu (wrist) as participating fully in practice.

Seattle Seahawks: Guard James Carpenter (concussion), receiver Braylon Edwards (knee), running back Marshawn Lynch (back/wrist), defensive end Red Bryant (foot), linebacker K.J. Wright (concussion), defensive lineman Clinton McDonald (groin) and safety Kam Chancellor (quadriceps) did not practice Wednesday. Defensive tackle Jason Jones (ankle) was limited. Receiver Doug Baldwin (ankle), guard John Moffitt (knee) and center Max Unger (finger) were full participants. Seattle is a little more beat-up than it has been to this point in the season. Having a bye in Week 11 should help the team recharge for a stretch run. Jones hasn't played since Week 7. Seattle's nickel pass rush has missed him. The fact that he is practicing, even on a limited basis, should be encouraging for the Seahawks. Having Baldwin back allowed Seattle to release receiver Charly Martin and re-sign him to its practice squad. The Seahawks have activated cornerback Walter Thurmond from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. He helps with depth and gives the team another option in the nickel role, possibly affecting Marcus Trufant.

2012 49ers offensive snaps: Weeks 1-5

October, 14, 2012
A periodic look at which players are playing and when, beginning with the San Francisco 49ers' offense:

2012 49ers defensive snaps: Weeks 1-5

October, 13, 2012
A periodic look at which players are playing and when, continuing with the San Francisco 49ers' defense, which has spent much of the season using its nickel package:

Revisiting three under-the-radar moves for the San Francisco 49ers to see how well these June storylines are holding up:

1. Signing Perrish Cox. The 25-year-old corner had not played since 2010, his rookie season with Denver. The 49ers' secondary coach, Ed Donatell, was with the Broncos at that time. His feel for Cox smoothed the way for San Francisco to add the cornerback this offseason. Cox competed well enough during minicamps to serve notice that he could be a factor in the secondary. That has continued during training camp. Cox has contributed on special teams as well. This storyline remains alive.

2. Moving Boone to right guard. Initial expectations were for Alex Boone and Daniel Kilgore to compete for the vacant starting job at right guard. Well, Boone appears to have won the competition decisively. Kilgore projects as a backup center now. Leonard Davis, signed this summer, provides veteran insurance for Boone. So far, though, the 49ers appear happy with what Boone is offering them. Boone is taller than the typical guard. He's working on staying low. Boone's tenacious demeanor seems to mesh well with tackle Anthony Davis on the right side.

3. Positional shuffling. Will Tukuafu, Michael Wilhoite, Cory Nelms, Ben Hannula and Demarcus Dobbs were among those singled out in the previous item for their ability to play more than one position. The 49ers were seeking the kind of roster flexibility teams covet. Dobbs stands out as the big success story to this point. He's playing defensive line and tight end, with encouraging results. As coach Jim Harbaugh said recently, "We still don't know what that ceiling is yet. So, I don’t think that ceiling is in site for Demarcus." It looks like Dobbs could emerge as the third tight end, especially with an injury removing Nate Byham from the equation.