Whiting on way back to Philly?

The Brandon Whiting deadline is just a week away. The 49ers must decide by Sept. 1 whether to send the seventh-year defensive lineman back to Philadelphia in exchange for a 2005 third-round draft pick and, as that deadline approaches, Whiting still doesn't appear ready to pass a physical that would allow him to practice with the Niners.

But he's getting close. Of course, the Niners have been saying that for weeks about Whiting, who underwent surgery on his injured left shoulder earlier this spring. He has spent all of training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

"I expect that he'll pass the physical," Niners general manager Terry Donahue said Tuesday. "I don't think he would necessarily pass today. But I think his shoulder is clearly getting better, and I think we're optimistic he's going to be able to be on our team this year."

The Niners could use a healthy Whiting, because they are thin along the defensive line, and the 6-foot-3, 285-pound bruiser is a big end who also can slide inside and play tackle in some defensive schemes. Whiting came to the Niners as a result of the deal that ultimately landed receiver Terrell Owens in Philadelphia.

But he also came to the team as damaged goods, and the deal held a stipulation that the Niners could return Whiting to the Eagles by Sept. 1 if he hadn't passed their physical yet. That date is rapidly approaching, and the Niners certainly had hoped to have Whiting on the practice field by now.

"We're thinking that he will be on our team. We're expecting him to be on the team," Donahue said. "But there are some issues that need to be resolved between now and that date in terms of consummating the deal. We were aware of some of his physical issues when we made the deal. That's why we have the time period we do, to make this evaluation. So, we'll see what happens."

Donahue said there hasn't been any discussions with Philadelphia about extending the Sept. 1 deadline, but that could happen if Whiting still isn't ready to take the field during the next week of practice.

"If we didn't feel he was able to pass (the physical) by September 1, then we very well might talk to the Eagles about an extension," Donahue said. "If they didn't want to do that, we'd have to make our decision at that time. I think, for the most part, we're optimistic that he's going to be on the team. Are we sure? Can I tell you today that the deal's been consummated? No, but we're more optimistic than we are pessimistic about it."

Whiting's return is even more vital to the Niners now that second-year end Andrew Williams is out until the end of September with a broken leg. The Niners also could use Whiting's presence inside, where they're thin behind starters Bryant Young and Anthony Adams.

But Whiting does San Francisco absolutely no good at either position when he's standing on the sidelines, which is what he has been doing since he joined the team in March, and the Niners need to seriously consider how much longer they can wait just to see if he can make a contribution during the season's opening months.

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