SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin practiced on Thursday and said he plays to play Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers meet the Seattle Seahawks at Candlestick Park. If the Niners hope to keep alive their faint hopes of the playoffs, they'll need him.
Franklin is recovering from a groin injury he suffered Sunday in Green Bay, but his presence is important with the 49ers facing the Seahawks and running back Marshawn Lynch.
Without him, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said the team would have to rely on a combination of defensive tackles Ricky Jean-Francois and Isaac Sopoaga at nose tackle, neither of whom is a viable alternative.
"I hope he does play," Jean-Francois said of Franklin. "I hope he gets healed. But if he doesn't, I have to be ready to roll."
Jean-Francois had a tough day after replacing Franklin, in part, he said, because he used a too-wide stance on the cold Lambeau Field turf. But it was evident that the Packers' offensive line was able to push him off the ball.
"I think when you're a young guy and haven't played for a while, even though he's gotten snaps here and there, it's not quite the focus for a young guy to go in there with a veteran player as the center," Manusky said. "But that's what he's got to do. He's got to back up Aubrayo and he's got to do a better job of doing that when we call upon him."
Lynch ran for 83 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, and the 49ers' ability to stop him may be the key to winning the game and avenging a Week 1 loss to the Seahawks.
"He's an explosive runner," Franklin said. "Even when he was in Buffalo, I had him listed as one of the top backs. He kind of reminds you of (Jonathan) Stewart in Carolina with his jump-cut ability, but he's a much bigger back and a more powerful runner."
NO HOSTAGE TAKER: Coach Mike Singletary said his decision to switch quarterbacks from Troy Smith to Alex Smith was influenced by the fact that opponents were beginning to figure out Troy Smith. "You kind of pigeon-holed him there and kind of hold the whole offense hostage," Singletary said, "which is a situation you really don't want to be in."
But offensive coordinator Mike Johnson disagreed, saying, "I wouldn't say holding us hostage. He's done a good job for the time that he's been in there. Have we been limited in some areas? Yes, but I don't think that hostage is the correct word to use because he's done a good job with the time he's been there. He's 3-2 as the starter for this football team."
Asked if he lobbied for Alex Smith to return to his starting role, Johnson said, "I didn't lobby for anyone to come back. I think those are decisions we made as a staff, coach Singletary and the rest of the coaches, and it's something that we decided to do. But he has the final say on all of that."
GORE'S RECOVERY: Running back Frank Gore was walking around with the help of crutches and said he's confident about his return next season after suffering a hairline fracture in his right hip against the Arizona Cardinals.
Gore said he expects to start pool rehab in six weeks and hopes to begin running in eight weeks.
"I don't have to get surgery," he said, "so that's a plus for me."