Counting down to KC

A day away from a flight to Kansas City to play the Chiefs in their exhibition opener, the 49ers practiced Thursday with their purpose pointed toward Saturday's game.

GEARING DOWN: Coach Dennis Erickson shaved almost 40 minutes off the 49ers' scheduled morning session, and he also had his players come out in shorts and helmets for what originally was scheduled to be a padded practice. With only a short special teams practice scheduled in the afternoon, the Niners are freshening up for Friday's airplane flight to Kansas City, where their preseason begins at 7:30 p.m. local time against the Chiefs.

GARCIA NOT GOING: Quarterback Jeff Garcia will be one of eight players that won't be on that airplane. On Wednesday, Erickson said Garcia might not make the trip. On Thursday, the coach made it official: "He's going to stay here and rehab," Erickson said. "Mainly, that three-hour plane ride is not conducive to his condition."

EPIDURAL RELIEF: That condition, basically, is a recurring bad back. Garcia had an epidural on Thursday, the second he has had since he aggravated a disk in his back while working out with a trainer July 14. Garcia also had an epidural five days before training camp began.

Garcia was not at practice Thursday, and he is not expected to rejoin the team until Monday's practice session. The Niners are off on Sunday.

"He's doing OK," Erickson said. "He's staying at home. We don't want him traveling with that back. It was a lot better yesterday. He's going to be alright. He just has to watch himself.

STAND UP, PLEASE: Garcia still has been sitting in on meetings with the team. But not for long. "When it bothers him, he gets up and walks and them comes back or stands up," Erickson said.

RATTAY AT THE READY: With Garcia out, Tim Rattay took over the lead at quarterback in practice Thursday, just as he has done the last two days. Rattay will start and play into the second quarter against the Chiefs, and it has been a smooth transition with Rattay running the show.

"From my time that I've spent with Tim, he's a guy that prepares to be a starter all the time," Erickson said. "That's how he's prepared, and now he's got some opportunities in the preseason."

STAYING HOME: CB/KR Jimmy Williams (knee) and CB Jason Webster (ankle) are among the players who won't be making the trip to Kansas City. Erickson also indicated that LB Saleem Rasheed (hamstring) and fullback Paul Smith (hip) will also miss the Aug. 14 game against Oakland and each could be out up to 10 more days.

WINBORN TIME: Jamie Winborn has looked excellent in camp practices. Now comes the time for him to finally be unleashed in a game. Winborn will play for the first time since he injured his knee last September, an injury that unexpectedly ended up keeping him out the rest of the season.

"He's going to play quite a bit in the first half," Erickson said. "He needs to get some turns. The thing I've noticed about Jamie is that he looks to be back to normal, because he can run. That's his biggest quality. He's anxious to play."

LOOKING FOR RETURNS: With Williams' status still uncertain, one of San Francisco's biggest concerns of the preseason is to find a capable punt returner.

The Niners are confident they have capable players to return kickoffs should Williams not be available, but the same can't be said for punt returns. Saturday's game will be the first portion of a stringent evaluation process to find somebody who can handle the role.

Three players will get a shot at it against the Chiefs: Arland Bruce, Aaron Lockett and Cedrick Wilson. The Niners hope they need not look any further than that trio during the preseason.

"We have to find out who can return punts," Erickson said. "That's real critical in the preseason."

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