49ers defense getting healthy

Coming off their bye week, the 49ers are getting healthy on defense and have key players returning to practice this week.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The 49ers didn't do so well without three key defenders in their last game before the bye week.

They lost to the Denver Broncos 42-17 without Patrick Willis and defensive backs Chris Culliver and Jimmie Ward, allowing a season-worst 419 yards to Peyton Manning and Co.

As expected, all three returned to practice this week, including Willis.

Willis had been dealing with a toe injury, while Culliver strained a hamstring late in the week of practice leading up to the trip to Denver while also recovering from a shoulder injury. Ward strained a quadriceps muscle in Oct. 13's win over the St. Louis Rams, who San Francisco plays Sunday.

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Willis has been fully cleared by doctors to return to regular football activities. Culliver was a full go in Monday's practice while Ward was "a little more limited," Harbaugh said.

With the exception of Chris Cook, who was placed on injured reserve over the weekend with a hamstring injury, the 49ers group of defensive backs will be the healthiest its been since Week 1. Top corner Tramaine Brock returned to the field against the Broncos having not played since suffering a toe injury in the season-opening win over the Cowboys and will likely be available again this week.

It poses a good problem for the 49ers to have. Perrish Cox, who stepped in for Brock, has been one of the league's best corners sine getting inserted into the starting lineup. Cox's versatility could allow defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to ease any of the other three corners back into the fold. He played Ward's nickel position in Denver while Brock and rookie Dontae Johnson played the outside.

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