Winborn likely to miss season

And now, the latest shocker: Linebacker Jamie Winborn has a neck problem that will keep him out of Monday night's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and could force the 49ers to place him on injured reserve for the rest of the season.

Winborn practiced at full speed Thursday, but had a Magnetic Resonance Imaging exam after practice because of pain symptoms that had developed in his neck. Though coach Dennis Erickson did not specifically identify the problem, he indicated some damage was "discovered" by the MRI.

Winborn went from not being listed on Thursday's injury report to doubtful on Friday, though his situation apparently is more dire. The cat-quick linebacker could be out for the rest of the season.

"I assume we'll put him on IR," Erickson said. "We really haven't had enough time to talk about it. I got a call last night about 8 o'clock from the trainer. We'll have to talk about it."

Winborn, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, has been a major cog and dynamic presence in San Francisco's revamped defense this season. Even though he didn't start, Winborn was fourth on the team with 58 tackles and also had two sacks. Winborn's athleticism allowed the 49ers to move around both him and Julian Peterson in their scheme, which also allowed the Niners to put four linebackers on the field at the same time.

"I just feel sorry for Jamie," Erickson said. "He had a lot of injuries last year. Hopefully, it can get straightened out. I'm more concerned about him. It's part of the game. We've got to solve the problem."

The good news for the Niners is starter Jeff Ulbrich, who has been nursing a high ankle sprain that had him questionable for Monday's game, practiced Friday and was close to full speed.

"He moved around really well," Erickson said. "I was really happy. I like what he did. He's a tough guy. We'll see if he's sore tomorrow. If he's like he was today and gets better, then he will be the starter. I'd be surprised if he wasn't."

Winborn's place in San Francisco's defensive schemes could be taken by second-year player Saleem Rasheed, who has not been a factor on defense this season because of the fine play of the linebackers in front of him. Rasheed's skills are similar to Winborn's, and the Niners won't hesitate to use him in that kind of role.

"Saleem is going to play," Erickson said. "That's what he's here for, and Brandon Moore. (Winborn)'s got such speed and athleticism when it comes to blitzing and things like that. I think Saleem is a lot like him, speed-wise and so forth. Obviously, he hasn't played. He's going to have to. I have a lot of confidence in Saleem."

Depending on the health of Ulbrich and how the Niners plan to continue to move around Peterson, Rasheed could find himself going from the bench to playing several linebacker positions.

"Saleem's going to play," Erickson said. "We didn't find out (about Winborn) until this morning for sure. We have tomorrow and Sunday. To be honest with you, we have to sit down and talk about it."


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