SANTA CLARA, Calif. – On the day he fired offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary left open the possibility there might be other changes coming.
Now it appears there are.
Safety Michael Lewis missed practice on Friday for what the team called "personal reasons." It's possible he won't travel with the team for its game Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons – and it's even more likely he may have lost his starting job to Reggie Smith. Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee said via Twitter that Lewis has asked for his release.
Although Singletary would not say if Lewis' absence was football-related, it could be that he was told he's no longer a starter. If that's true, Smith would start and second-round draft pick Taylor Mays would likely get some playing time.
On Monday, Singletary denied an online report that said Lewis and linebacker Takeo Spikes had lost their starting jobs, saying, "There could be some changes, but I don't know where that (rumor) came from." Two days later, he said there would be no lineup changes.
Speaking about Lewis on Friday, Singletary said, "I told him to go ahead and do what you have to do. As far as whether he'll make the trip or not, I'm not sure at this point. It depends on if things get worked out or not."
Even if Lewis does join the team in Atlanta, Singletary would not say if he'll start. "I don't want to get into ‘if he were here or not,'" he said. "All I know is he's not here for personal reasons."
This is not the first time this season the 49ers have had to deal with missing players. Defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer missed part of training camp with an unexcused absence before he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks, and second-year running back Glen Coffee suddenly retired, also during training camp.
With all the troubles the team's offense has endured, the defense has been largely overlooked. But it has struggled almost as much, ranking in the bottom half of the league in total defense, points per game, third-down efficiency and sacks. Its two takeaways are fewer than all but three teams.
Asked if he were disappointed in the defense's play, Spikes said, "Am I? For real? Yeah. Why wouldn't I be? We're fooling ourselves if we think that's acceptable."
Like the 49ers offense, the defense turned in a good game in a Week 2 loss at home to the New Orleans Saints. But it gave up 457 total yards to the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday, including two TD passes of more than 30 yards.
"It's amazing," defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. "You play New Orleans, you do pretty good against them and everybody's saying its good. Then you go to Kansas City and you don't do well and everybody's saying you're crap. It's a long season. You take them one at a time, and that's what we're doing defensively. You're going to have some bumps in the road."
So far, there have been a few too many for the 49ers.
VINDICATION: Rookie tackle Anthony Davis was penalized last Sunday for punching Chiefs defensive end Shaun Smith. On Friday, Smith was penalized $10,000 by the league for grabbing Davis in the groin area. Davis complained afterward that he had been grabbed inappropriately by Smith.
INJURIES: WR Ted Ginn Jr. (knee) and center Eric Heitmann (fibula) are doubtful for Sunday's game. CB Will James (ankle) is questionable. Spikes (knee) and S Dashon Goldson (knee, foot) are probable. Lewis is also listed as probable, although the team's report said "ankle, not injury-related."