Hurting line needs healing in hurry

Five bad ankles along the offensive line meant one bad apple of a game for the 49ers last week. Two of those bad ankles probably won't be healed enough to play Sunday, leaving the 49ers to go against the 3-0 Minnesota Vikings with the same starting line that contributed greatly to S.F.'s most ineffective offensive display in several seasons. "We're going to iron out any problems that we do have on the offensive line," said QB Jeff Garcia, who often was on the run last week due to those problems.

That ironing out will be done without left guard Eric Heitmann, who could return next week but probably won't play again until the Oct. 12 game at Seattle. It also looks like left tackle Derrick Deese will miss his third consecutive start – leaving the 49ers with rookie Kwame Harris and second-year player Kyle Kosier manning the left side of their line.

Deese said Wednesday that his ankle is coming along, but he wore the pained expression of a player who still isn't sure whether his troublesome left ankle is ready to hold up to a Sunday of NFL pounding.

And that wasn't the only reason Deese was wearing a pained expression.

"There are a lot of things that are right now more painful than the ankle," Deese said.

Deese, who protects Garcia's blind side, has a streak of 24 consecutive games without allowing a sack. But that's a streak Deese was unable to continue the past two weeks. Instead, he spent that time agonizingly watching San Francisco's banged-up offensive line struggle without him.

Those struggles were magnified last week when the Niners had problems both in their run game and protecting Garcia during a 13-12 upset loss to Cleveland that has saddled San Francisco with a 1-2 record that was not what anybody was expecting at this juncture.

"Obviously, you don't like to see the quarterback get hit," Deese said. "Those guys are out there fighting, but we've got to get this thing turned around as fast as possible. I need to get healthy and get back out there and that's something I deal with day in and day out. But guys that step in have to play like starters. They can't miss a beat."

That didn't happen against the Browns as the Niners failed to score a touchdown in a regular-season game for the first time since 1999. The Niners managed just 75 yards rushing against a Cleveland defense that had allowed an NFL-record 295 yards to Baltimore's Jamal Lewis the week before.

Forty of those rushing yards came from Garcia, who often was left running for safety as protection broke down on pass plays. Garcia was sacked twice and took his worst beating of the season. He also landed on the injury report this week with a groin injury.

Garcia, as he often does, took on some of the responsibility Wednesday when he said, "In reviewing the film, there probably were a couple of times where I was a little bit quick to move around in the pocket, where I maybe had a chance to be a little bit more patient, allow things to develop a little bit more so."

Garcia actually said that the struggles the line is going through now will make it better down the road.

"We have some guys that are learning on the run," Garcia said. "That's the best way that they're going to learn. They're going to get it right and fix it, and I have complete confidence in those guys up front to handle their business, to do their job. I'm not at all concerned with that. We're going to get it fixed and we're going to be better for it."

Harris, who has allowed a sack in each of the past two games and has been flagged for three false-start penalties, understands the pressure for the line fill-ins to get their problems straightened out now.

"It always starts in the trenches," he said. "You need to establish that – that's where the football game is established. I don't think we played awful as an offensive line. There are little things here and there that we can fix and adjust to."

Unless Deese can return to the lineup, there won't be any adjustments this week to the unit that started against Cleveland. That would make it the first time this season the Niners haven't moved starters along their line.

"In the offensive front, we don't have a lot of places to go," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "We've been talking about it for three weeks."


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