Getting ready for 'thoroughbred' Vikes

Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper has three broken bones on the left side of his spine and another that is cracked. He did not practice Wednesday and is listed as doubtful to face the 49ers this week. Receiver Randy Moss also didn't practice due to back spasms and is listed as questionable. But none of these injury developments change Jim Mora's approach. The Niners' defensive coordinator says he's preparing his unit to face both of Minnesota's star offensive weapons.

Mora, whose unit is ranked second in the NFL in total defense, said he fully expects Moss to play, despite the superstar receiver's iffy status. Players listed as questionable on NFL injury reports are supposed to have a 50-50 chance at being available to play that week.

Although it appears unlikely Culpepper will play – Niners' guard Eric Heitmann also is listed as doubtful, and he'll probably be out two more games – Mora says he'll be preparing to face the big QB anyway.

"Absolutely you do," Mora said. "Along with Jeff Garcia, you're talking about two of the tougher people in this league. We've got to assume he's going to play. We also have to assume they're not going to change their style of offense, even if he is hurt. They're going to still run him and roll him out. He's 6-4 and 264 (pounds) and he's 100 percent man. We have to prepare as if he's going to play."

That might not be a bad idea, since Minnesota coach Mike Tice has not ruled out Culpepper for the game. But can a quarterback actually play with broken bones in his spine?

"Daunte's a tough sucker," Tice said Wednesday morning. "I just saw him in the cafeteria and he was moving around pretty good. But I think we are just going to wait until Friday to see if he could turn those hips, throw that football, get out of that center and drop back. If he can't do it, we'll rest him."

Which sounds like the Niners better be ready to face backup Gus Frerotte as well. Easily done, Mora said.

"If Frerotte plays, they're not going to change what we do," Mora said. "That's not going to affect our game plan."

That game plan definitely will be developed as if Moss is playing – even if he shows up at less than full strength. Tice said Wednesday was the first time Moss had missed even a practice repetition all season.

"We are going to rest him a little bit and see if we can help him," Tice said. "I used to bring thoroughbreds in and I kind of fashion him to be a thoroughbred. He's a little off right now. We can't put him in a stake race and have any chance to win the race if we don't get him right. So, that is what we are going to do."

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