Niners notebook

What's wrong with the 49ers? The more pertinent question might be, "What isn't wrong with the 49ers?"

Coach Dennis Erickson, when asked the latter, did not hesitate in answering what has been the lone bright spot of the team through the one-quarter point in the regular season.

"I'd say the play of our linebacker corps," Erickson said. "It's been something that's really jumped out with the play of Derek (Smith) and Jeff (Ulbrich), Jamie (Winborn) and Julian (Peterson). They have played well and made a lot of players for us in the blitz and playing the run."

--- Cornerback Mike Rumph experienced a rough rookie season in 2002, but rebounded with a solid campaign as a sophomore. He was expecting to elevate his play another notch this season, but it just didn't work out that way.

Rumph sustained a broken right forearm and will miss the remainder of the season after surgery to insert a rod into his arm.

"Through this whole season I'm going to play only three quarters," Rumph said. "I'll start getting ready for next year."

Rumph left the first game of the season with a groin strain in the first quarter. After missing two games, he returned only to sustain the broken arm in the second quarter against the Rams.

Rumph said he plans to speak with rookie Shawntae Spencer, who now takes over in the starting lineup.

"He's got raw talent," Rumph said. "He's a great corner, he just needs to see the game a little more, like I needed to when I came in. ... I want to reiterate to him to have fun. I went through so much my rookie year, but when I reminded myself to just have fun, my game got better."

--- Erickson said the team has not been able to incorporate as many blitzes into its defensive packages because of all the shuffling on the defensive line. The 49ers have had 16 different defensive linemen on their 53-man roster already this season.

"Sure, it affects everything you do. It's difficult," Erickson said. "Just teaching them the base part of what we're doing, when you have new people in here, just where to line up and what the call is is hard enough. And now you try to put in a lot of your package and where those guys have to go, it takes a lot of time. It's stopped us from blitzing a little bit."

BY THE NUMBERS: 6.8 - Yards per game by which opponents have out-gained the 49ers this season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "As coaches we have to give them the best opportunity to win. I mean, it is all of us involved in this thing. It's not just the players. It's the coaches, the players and all of us together have to get this ship right" - 49ers coach Dennis Erickson on correcting the team's early season struggles.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Hit with a rash of injuries at defensive end, the 49ers went out and added another defensive lineman to the mix this week.

The 49ers claimed DE Melvin Williams from the New Orleans Saints, the seventh defensive lineman the organization has acquired since the final roster cutdown date of Sept. 5. Williams becomes the 16th different defensive lineman to hold a spot on the 53-man roster this season.

"Really, Brandon Whiting is our healthiest defensive end right now," Erickson said.

Whiting missed all of training camp and the first two games of the regular season after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. He has started the last two games at RDE in place of Andre Carter, who is expected to be out of action for at least another month after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst in his back.

The 49ers do not know if they will have the services this week of starting LDE John Engelberger, who sustained an abdominal strain last week against the Rams, or Otis Leverette, who started one game this season but is nursing a high ankle sprain.

With so few healthy defensive ends on the roster, the 49ers spent the early part of this week trying to figure out what to do. DT Tony Brown has the versatility to play DE, as does starter Bryant Young. The 49ers might also be forced to play some more 3-4, but it doesn't help matters that MLB Derek Smith is out indefinitely with an ankle injury.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--- QB Tim Rattay did not spend his day off in the trainer's room this week, which means he is finally healthy. Rattay, who threw for 299 yards in the 49ers' loss to the St. Louis Rams, said he is feeling as good as he's felt since last season. Rattay has an 86.2 passer rating this season.

--- LB Derek Smith is expected to miss approximately a month with an injury that coach Dennis Erickson described as torn ligaments in his right ankle. The injury will not require surgery, he said.

--- WR Curtis Conway will likely start again this week in place of Brandon Lloyd, who has missed the last two games with a lingering groin injury. Conway is making his case for a steady spot in the starting lineup. Conway is second on the team with 19 receptions for 205 yards.

--- LT Kwame Harris returned to practice this week after sustaining a high left ankle sprain and a slight MCL tear of his left knee Sept. 19 against the Saints. If Harris is not 100 percent, 49ers coach Dennis Erickson said Kyle Kosier will continue to start at left tackle.


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