SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Brian Westbrook doesn't want to talk about the Philadelphia Eagles or his place on the San Francisco 49ers or any the reasons he has yet to play a role – prominent or otherwise – in the team's offense.
Westbrook didn't say any of those things this week. In fact, he didn't say a word. Informed that reporters were waiting to talk to him Thursday, he retreated to the trainers' room and didn't come out during the time the media is permitted in the locker room.
Sunday night will be a big night for Westbrook. The Eagles, the team with whom he spent the first eight seasons of his NFL career, come to Candlestick Park on Sunday night in a nationally televised game. Although he clearly has some fond memories of Philadelphia, Westbrook is still waiting to create a few in San Francisco.
Westbrook has been on the field for four plays this season and has touched the ball three times – one rush for no yards and two pass receptions for six yards. The 49ers are one of the worst third-down teams in the league, but Westbrook – regarded as among the best third-down backs ever – has been left on the sidelines during those critical situations.
Coach Mike Singletary doesn't want to take touches away from running back Frank Gore, who is also an exceptional receiver, but the Niners have yet to explore two-back sets or using Westbrook in the slot. They had him there for one play Sunday in Atlanta, but the team had the wrong personnel on the field and had to call a timeout.
"It's not that we haven't been able to find a role" for Westbrook, Singletary said. "I think sometimes, when it's early in the season, you're just trying to get it going for Frank Gore, just to make sure that the offensive line is really in tune with him. I think with Westbrook, the plan that we had when we got him was to make sure that as we go forward and we find out what he can and cannot do in terms of our offense, just letting it develop. That's what we're trying to do."
It surely can't be that Westbrook is having trouble grasping the offense. As Eagles coach Andy Reid said this week, "Brian is one of my all-time favorite players, maybe the smartest player I've coached. He's so talented. I feel privileged that I had the years with him that I did."
Interestingly, the injury to tight end Delanie Walker, who has a high ankle sprain, might mean more playing time for Westbrook. Offensive coordinator Mike Johnson said he intends to look for more ways to get Westbrook on the field starting Sunday.
But it's not just about putting Westbrook and Gore in the same backfield, Johnson said.
"There are more things to consider," he said. "You have to consider the protection issues and all the different things we do from a protection standpoint. You have to make sure that all of those things are sound because you don't want to flip those two halfbacks in the game and then, every time you're in the game, one's protecting and one's releasing. You have to be able to mix that up.
"All of that has to be considered, but we're constantly trying to find ways to get Brian and other players involved. We know Brian's been a very good player in this league for a long time and we're going to try to utilize his talents and try to get him involved in some way here pretty soon."
Sunday might be a good night to start.
WILLIAMS HURTING: Rookie punt returner Kyle Williams has only been healthy a couple of weeks, but Thursday he was wearing a metal split on the middle finger of his right hand. He said he jammed the tip of his finger catching a punt in practice on Wednesday. If he can't play, look for Ted Ginn Jr., who's expected to return from a knee injury, to run back punts as well as kickoffs. Singletary said Ginn would share No. 3 receiver duties with Dominique Zeigler.