Willis 'doubtful' for Saints game

The 49ers could be without two starting linebackers against the explosive Saints offense Sunday, including Patrick Willis, who has been sidelined with a toe injury.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The 49ers are in danger of being without All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis for the third straight game when they take on the Saints' second-ranked offense.

Willis is officially listed as questionable for Sunday's game in New Orleans. But according to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, it appears unlikely Willis will suit up.

"If he doesn’t start practicing at some point then it starts moving to doubtful,” Fangio said Thursday.

Willis, in fact, did not practice all week while recovering from his big toe strain suffered in the second quarter of Week 6's game in St. Louis, played on field turf, the same surface San Francisco will play on Sunday in the Super Dome.

In Willis' place would be rookie third-round pick Chris Borland, who notched 18 tackles in last week's loss to the Rams, the most of any 49er this season. He also had three tackles for loss.

In his first career start coming against Peyton Manning and the Broncos Oct. 19, Borland was hard on himself for the defense allowing 42 points.

"It means so much to him and you see that in the way he plays, the execution, the effort, talent," head coach Jim Harbaugh said Friday. "Excited for him this week. He loves playing. He loves football.”

San Francisco could also be without outside linebacker Dan Skuta, who plays primarily on the weak side in base situations. Skuta suffered an ankle injury in last week's game that kept him from practicing all week. However, he made it out to the practice field Friday, according to reports, but didn't participate.

That would mean another rookie linebacker would be stepping into a starting role. Aaron Lynch has played well in his role as a nickel pass rusher, but has seen limited snaps in Fangio's base defense. The fifth-round pick has notched sacks in his last two games.

If Lynch is forced to start, his responsibilities will grow significantly.

"They increase a lot because in nickel he doesn’t drop (into coverage) very much unless we have some zone pressures on where he has to drop," Fangio said. "And in base, he can be dropped in lot."

Lynch has been in on 154 passing plays and just 62 running plays, which he is more likely to see in the team's base 4-3 defense.

"He gets a lot of base reps in practice even when he’s only playing the nickel, so, obviously, he’s getting more this week with Dan not practicing yet. He went in there in the game the other day and got a couple in the base and did fine," Fangio said.

San Francisco enters the weekend with an open roster spot after releasing Demarcus Dobbs earlier in the week. They could potentially use it to add nose tackle Glenn Dorsey, who has been out since early in training camp with a torn triceps injury. If Skuta is unable to play, practice squad linebacker Chase Thomas could be elevated for depth on the outside.

49ERS INJURY REPORT

Questionable:

CB Tramaine Brock (toe), DT Quinton Dial (eye), WR Brandon Lloyd (hamstring), LB Dan Skuta (ankle), LB Patrick Willis (toe)

Probable:

RB Frank Gore (hip), DE Justin Smith (not injury related), DT Ian Williams (shin)

SAINTS INJURY REPORT

Out:

LB David Hawthorne (hand), RB Khiry Robinson (forearm), RB Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder)

Questionable:

C Jonathan Goodwin (knee, ankle), RB Mark Ingram (shoulder), WR Robert Meachem (ankle), T Zach Strief (chest)

Probable:

TE Jimmy Graham (shoulder), WR Kenny Stills (thigh)

Next story:

Red zone offense is the 49ers’ biggest problem

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