By Jerrell Richardson
As the 49ers try and forget about the embarrassment that was their performance Sunday Night and focus on their week off, they have been given both some good and bad news to help distract them. The good news is that when they hit the field next to take on the St. Louis Rams, San Francisco should have just about every starter on both sides of the ball on the field, and will be the healthiest they have been all year. Adding to the good news is that there are rumors that Aldon Smith's 9 game suspension could be reduced by one or even two games.
There is some bad news hitting 49er camp as well, though. Starting center, Daniel Kilgore, is out for the season after suffering a knee injury against Denver this past weekend. Even this unfortunate news, and it is no way around how bad this is, has a silver lining. If Kilgore had gone down just a week earlier, the 49ers would not have even had an option on the active roster to fill the void. By Kilgore injuring himself this past Sunday, it at least gives San Francisco a healthy body to step in (Marcus Martin), and the time to get him up to speed for what the team hopes is a second half run to the playoffs.
49ers Getting Several Big Names Back
As the Broncos ran up and down the field on the 49ers Sunday Night, it was clear that nobody was going to slow down Peyton Manning and crew that game. However, there is no doubt that the multitude of San Francisco players sitting out, and the fact that cornerback Tramaine Brock was making his first start of the season, had a direct hand in the blowout.
The player, who was missed the most, though, was the man in the middle, Patrick Willis. San Francisco's star linebacker was dealing with a toe injury that does not expect to keep him off the field moving forward. Willis is the quarterback of the defense and due to the absence of NaVorro Bowman, for the time being, Willis is the player the defense can't afford to have sit out again. Good thing the team won’t have to as all signs point to Willis back on the field against the Rams.
Joining Willis in returning to the field are several other notable names. Mike Iupati, Chris Culliver and Jimmie Ward are all slated to step back on the field after the bye week. Iupati and Culliver both figure to play important roles in the team's success in the second half of their season, and it is great news that they will be healthy by November 2nd. Even Ward, who is not a starter, is important as he is a more than capable coverage corner in obvious passing situations, and no matter what gives the team depth in the secondary.
Next Man Up
An important player getting over an injury, whose name is not as familiar to 49er fans, is rookie Marcus Martin. The backup center is getting over a left knee injury and just in the nick of time. He suffered his setback in the preseason and is finally ready to hit the field. His recovery at least lessens the blow struck by the news of Daniel Kilgore as Martin is the only player on the roster who can really step into center position. So while the news of losing their starting center is as bad as it sounds, at least it works out for San Francisco for two reasons.
One is that if Martin was still injured the team would have to hit the market to see who is available. Not only is this far from ideal this late in the season, it would also force the team to make a roster cut. The second reason is that with the extra week off, Martin at least gets some time to try and get up to speed. The reality though is that Martin is a rookie and has limited experience in an actual NFL game, so there will be plenty of question marks until he gets a few game time snaps under his belt. The extra time to practice can also help the team determine if Martin is even the man the team wants to try and get them through the rest of the season.
The Return Of A Pass Rush
As ecstatic as the team has to be to get back Willis and the rest of the injured 49ers, the best news by far this week has been the news around Aldon Smith. San Francisco's most explosive player is currently in the midst of a 9 game suspension and the rumors are that Commissioner Roger Goodell is considering reducing his punishment due to Smith’s good behavior. What this means is that in the best case scenario, Smith is back on the field against the Rams. Even if that’s not the case, he now figures to at least be on the field when San Francisco faces the Saints November 9th. The return of Smith means so much to a defense that until this past Sunday had played extremely well in 2014, despite the injuries that have crippled them.
As well as they have played, without Aldon Smith the 49ers defense is not Super Bowl ready. With him though, it immediately makes them a far more formidable unit. This season San Francisco has failed to generate a consistent pass rush and have seen quarterbacks sit in the pocket for far too long before being forced to get rid of the ball. With Smith on the field, opposing quarterbacks will no longer have this luxury and it will create a domino effect throughout the entire defense.
The line will get less attention and it will make their jobs easier. Justin Smith is tied for the team lead with 3 sacks, but he is more suited to open things up for Aldon, and will be able to return to his more natural role. The linebackers and secondary will benefit in passing downs as the amount of time spent chasing receivers will be cut down. If the coverage can anticipate a throw coming out sooner rather than later, it will allow them to be more aggressive and will lead to more passes defended and possibly turnovers. Smith also has the ability to keep teams out of manageable down and distances with his sacks, which in turn allows the entire pass rush to pin back their ears, all while making the opposing offense at least at times more predictable.
49ers Have To Like Where They Stand
With a favorable schedule in the second half of the season, and the return of so many key players on the horizon it's more good news than bad as the 49ers take a week off. Somehow the team will have to get by without their opening day starting center, but the team thus far has done a good job stepping up when someone goes down. The bye week is the chance in the season for a team to get healthy and to get in position for a playoff push and that’s exactly where San Francisco is at, despite the bad news that accompanied the good. NaVorro Bowman also figures to be back soon and all of sudden a good 49er defense will be considerably better.
For more 49ers news and updates, visit 49ers Central.
Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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