Ben Lynch's role as a backup is to be ready. He certainly played the part to perfection Monday night in the 49ers' 19-17 victory over the New York Jets.

Lynch has a different role this week. He'll be San Francisco's starting center in Sunday night's nationally-televised game against the Carolina Panthers Lynch will replace regular Jeremy Newberry, who suffered a high left ankle sprain late in the first half Monday. Lynch stepped in and performed admirably the rest of the game as the Niners rushed for 233 yards, their highest total in more than a year.

"You saw it on Monday night," Niners offensive line coach Pat Morris said. "He stepped in, we didn't miss a beat, and away we went."

Lynch will be stepping in from the start against the Panthers. It will be the second start of his three-year career with the Niners. "As a backup, you have to prepare like you're a starter because this situation can happen at any time," Lynch said. "Especially with linemen, because it's such a physical position. You have to be ready to jump in at any time. My preparation is pretty much the same whether Jeremy were playing or not."

Newberry - one of the top young centers in the NFL - was not injured as badly as it originally appeared when his left leg was twisted awkwardly in a scrimmage pile with his foot planted in the turf. He originally was expected to miss two games - the 49ers have a bye week after that - but he already has shown improvement and may be available for the team's Oct. 14 game against Atlanta. Even if Newberry isn't ready to return until Oct. 28 against the Chicago Bears - after the Niners return from their bye - Lynch already has assuredly displayed that the center position is in good hands with him.

"It's great to have a Ben Lynch right there ready to step in," quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "Fortunately, we're going to get Jeremy back. But Ben's going to do an excellent job for us." Maybe even better than last week, when he contributed to San Francisco's 133 yard rushings in the second half, which allowed the Niners to take over as the NFL's No. 1 rushing team this week. "I know I want to improve this week over the way I played last week," Lynch said. "It's a very technical position, so you're always trying to get better. I think everyone on the offensive line is always striving to get better."

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