Another starter goes down

Hoping to get defensive end Andre Carter back on the field Wednesday when they returned to full-scale practice, the 49ers instead learned they'll be without starting left cornerback Ahmed Plummer for Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears. Carter won't play in that game, either.

Though both players were listed as questionable for Sunday's game on Wednesday's official injury report, coach Dennis Erickson said both were doubtful to play Sunday.

Plummer went Erickson one better when he spoke briefly at his locker following Wednesday's practice session, at which neither he or Carter was anywhere to be seen.

"I'm down (this week)," said Plummer, who has a bulging disk in his neck.

The latest injury development is another big hit to the San Francisco defense, which returned from the bye week on Monday hoping it might finally have a healthy complement of players (without, of course, regular starters Mike Rumph and Julian Peterson, who both are on injured reserve).

Erickson spoke optimistically Monday that linebacker Derek Smith (who missed two games with an ankle injury) would be back in the starting lineup and that Carter had a chance to play. Erickson's only mention of Plummer, who didn't practice Monday, was that he was sore and would be OK to practice Wednesday.

Instead, Plummer won't even play Sunday – becoming the sixth defensive regular to miss a start this season. And the season isn't even seven games old yet.

"It's a week to week thing," Plummer said. "It's an injury I had last year, but it got a little worse. After the last game (Oct. 17 against the Jets), it just really got bad as far as the pain and not really being able to move my neck. It's very important to rest it. You don't want it to continue to get bigger because that can lead to some very serious issues."

The neck problem, in fact, could keep Plummer out beyond this week. When asked if surgery might be needed, Plummer said, "I don't believe so. … With a bulging disk, it takes a little bit of time. The body has to heal itself. You definitely don't want it to get worse. It's a week-to-week process."

So, instead of getting back Carter – whom the Niners still are hopeful will return to action next week – San Francisco will enter Sunday's nationally-televised evening game without four players who were in their original starting lineup to begin the season.

That includes both starting cornerbacks, a position at which the Niners are getting increasingly thin.

Jimmy Williams will start at left cornerback in place of Plummer. Rookie Shawntae Spencer will start his fourth game in place of Rumph at right cornerback. That leaves the nickel back duties to untested Joselio Hanson, who was on San Francisco's practice squad last year but this week figures to be a significant part of the game plan.

And that leaves the fourth cornerback duties to … well, the Niners don't have a fourth cornerback on their roster right now. Erickson indicated rookie Rayshun Reed might be elevated from the practice squad later this week to fill that role. Safety Dwaine Carpenter also can play cornerback.

Whatever the 49ers decide to do, they find themselves once again reeling on defense at a time they were hoping to finally get better.

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