Inside the 49ers

Because the remainder of the NFC West has experienced its share of struggles this season, the 49ers are not as hopelessly out of contention as you'd expect despite their 1-5 record.

"Yeah, I think about the playoffs," 49ers safety Tony Parrish said. "Why wouldn't I? We've got 10 games to go. I'm a competitor. I always think about the playoffs."

That talk about the playoffs would likely come to an abrupt end Sunday night if the 49ers are not able to defeat the equally troubled Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

Still, things could be a whole lot better for the 49ers, who have not formed any kind of continuity with a rash of injuries this season. Only nine players have started each of their first six games this season, and just seven have started every game at the same spot.

That number will dwindle by one, as cornerback Ahmed Plummer is out indefinitely with a bulging disk in his neck. Plummer describes the injury as "week to week." Plummer, who missed three games in the first four seasons of his career, was sidelined for a game late last season with the same condition.

With starting cornerback Mike Rumph already out for the season with a broken right forearm, the 49ers will turn to rookie Shawntae Spencer and Jimmy Williams, a fourth-year player with just two career starts. First-year player Joselio Hanson will see significant action as the team's third cornerback.

Another area of concern for the 49ers is at quarterback, where Tim Rattay continues experience injuries that have curtailed his time on the practice field.

Rattay experienced a strained muscle in his right forearm before the 49ers' Oct. 17 game against the New York Jets. Although coach Dennis Erickson later said he was surprised Rattay played in the game, Rattay threw for 286 yards in the 49ers' 22-14 loss at the Meadowlands.

"His arm is bothering him a little bit but he'll play -- I believe that and he believes that," Erickson said. "He's way better than he was before playing the Jets."

However, 49ers general manager Terry Donahue, speaking Wednesday on his weekly radio show, did not sound so sure Rattay would be starting against the Bears on Halloween night.

"I wish I could be more optimistic about him," Donahue said. "It's discouraging to him. He's frustrated because he's been besieged by a number of these injuries that have really set him back."

The 49ers can't afford very many more setbacks in a season in which one thing after another has gone bad. Linebacker Julian Peterson, the team's franchise player, is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Center Jeremy Newberry, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, has missed five games and counting after undergoing surgery to stabilize his kneecap. Defensive end Andre Carter, who recorded 19 sacks the past two seasons, has suited up just once because of back problems.

About the only thing that favors the 49ers is a soft schedule the remainder of the way. Their next nine games are against teams that have compiled a combined 17-40 mark. They finish the season Jan. 2 against unbeaten New England.

The St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks, the top two teams in the NFC West, both have three losses. The 49ers are one game behind Arizona (2-4). The 49ers got some encouragement during their bye week when both the Rams and Seahawks lost games.

"The whole league is kind of weird right now," linebacker Derek Smith said. "A lot of people wouldn't say their record right now shows that kind of team they have. There's a lot of opportunity in our division."

But Erickson realizes the 49ers have plenty to worry about, other than keeping tabs on how the other teams in the division are faring.

"It gives you a little encouragement," Erickson said. "It just goes to show that anybody can beat anybody at any time. Any division, particularly our division, looks like it will go down to the wire. For us, our concern is winning our second game more than anything.

"We talk about it as a 10-game season. We'll see where we are from there. We are 0-0 in a 10-game season."

SERIES HISTORY: 58th meeting. The 49ers lead 30-26-1, including victories in six of the last seven meetings. The teams last faced each other in the regular-season opener last year, when the 49ers rolled to a 49-7 victory.


--- LT Kwame Harris heard everything last season, but he said he has done a much better job of blocking out the static this season. Harris, the 49ers' first-round draft pick last year, will not start Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears despite being nearly 100 percent.

Erickson said third-year player Kyle Kosier will start but that Harris will be worked into the action. Despite his reluctance to get Harris back onto the field, Erickson said he has not lost any confidence in him. Erickson said he is committed to keeping Harris at left tackle, denying that his best position in the future might be right tackle.

"People say that and I hear that from everybody, but I believe he has a chance to be a good left tackle in this league and that's where he's going to play with us," Erickson said. "Obviously, at the end of our season we'll evaluate a lot of different things.

"Sometimes he thinks too much; he's just got to go out and play. I have confidence he can play left tackle."

--- QB Tim Rattay's first seven starts of his career are statistically better than Joe Montana, John Brodie and Jeff Garcia.

In his brief time as a starter, Rattay has completed 64 percent of his passes (159 of 249) for 1,809 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. Montana completed 62 percent of his passes in his first seven starts for 609 fewer yards, four fewer TDs and one more interception.

--- The 49ers released linebacker Ray Wells last week during the bye week and then re-signed him a week later in a move that saved the club nearly $18,000.

The 49ers say they believed linebacker Saleem Rasheed would be ready to play this week after undergoing arthroscopic last week. The 49ers had just 50 players on their roster during the bye week, saving the club nearly $50,000.

But Wells was excited to be called back for this week's game against the Bears, even though he would have made an extra $18,000 if the 49ers had just kept him on the roster.

"Yeah, everybody wants free money," said Wells. "But I knew when I came in here that I was filling in for Saleem Rasheed and Derek Smith. They thought they were going to be getting both of them back this week, but Saleem will be out another week."

--- Running back Kevan Barlow spent his day off working as a sounding board and counselor to former teammates Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens, whose new teams played each other last Sunday. Owens' Philadelphia Eagles defeated Garcia's Cleveland Browns, 34-31, in overtime.

"Both of them guys called me right after the game ... to talk about each other," Barlow said.

Barlow said he speaks often with both players. He managed to remain non-partisan in the one-sided spat that Owens took public after the 49ers dealt him to the Eagles.

"T.O was calling for me to massage his ego a little bit, but I didn't feed into it," Barlow said.

Barlow said Garcia has called him on occasion to offer encouragement, and he did the same earlier this season when Garcia was going through some rough times in back-to-back losses.

"That's my buddy," Barlow said. "I'm kind of missing him."

--- When the 49ers fired Steve Mariucci following the 2002 season, the organization made a public statement that it would use an inclusive search to determine its next coach. The 49ers interviewed several minority candidates, including finalists Greg Blache and Ted Cottrell.

Although then-Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith was expected to be a top candidate, he said the 49ers never contacted him about the opening.

"I was never involved," said Smith, who as head coach of the Chicago Bears will take on the 49ers on Sunday. "I just always thought if I did a good job with what I was in charge of and, being a coordinator, that I would get an opportunity and I would get the perfect opportunity when my time came. If you keep doing your job, you will get an opportunity, and that is what happened to me. It worked out good for the 49ers, and I could not be more pleased to be the head football coach here."

BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- The number of turnovers the 49ers have forced through six games. The 49ers are tied for last in the league with the Raiders with a minus-12 takeaway/giveaway margin.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know what I can do. I know I'm a beast. I'm tight. I'm good. I'm not worried about it at all" -- 49ers running back Kevan Barlow on whether he fears newly promoted Maurice Hicks might take some of his playing time.


The 49ers had planned to promote running back Maurice Hicks from the practice squad, but an injury to Ahmed Plummer put those plans on the shelf. Plummer has a bulging disk in his neck, an injury that will sideline him for Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears and is considered week to week.

Hicks was originally targeted to be promoted to the active roster and perhaps return kickoffs. Starting running back Kevan Barlow said he looked forward to having Hicks share some of the load during the course of a game. Hicks was among the 49ers' final cuts after the exhibition season, when he gained 98 yards on 27 carries.

Instead, the 49ers were expected to activate cornerback Rayshun Reed, a rookie from Troy State to the active roster. The 49ers will start rookie Shawntae Spencer and fourth-year player Jimmy Williams at the cornerback spots. First-year player Joselio Hanson will take over as the nickel back.

The 49ers also signed tight end Kevin Ware to the 53-man squad. Ware was with the 49ers in training camp but has not played in a regular-season game this season. He can be used as the team's No. 3 tight end and, possibly, at fullback behind Fred Beasley. Backup fullback Jasen Isom is out for the season with a torn left Achilles tendon.

--- QB Tim Rattay has averaged 334 yards passing in his last three games, with an average of 29 completions and a 94.9 passer rating. It is the highest three-game average for a 49ers quarterback since Jeff Garcia in 2000.

--- TE Eric Johnson is feeling a lot better after a week's worth of rest for his cracked right rib. Johnson has gotten off to a hot start with 45 catches for 484 yards and two touchdowns. He is on pace to better his two-year career total of 76 catches for 683 yards and three touchdowns.

--- OT Kyle Kosier will start his fifth consecutive game at left tackle in place of Kwame Harris, who is also expected to see some action there. Kosier started the first two games at right guard and will switch back to that spot for a series or two when Harris enters the game.

--- LB Jeff Ulbrich, who leads the 49ers with 56 tackles, will move out of the middle linebacker spot with Derek Smith returning to the lineup after missing two games with torn ankle ligaments. Unlike the past when Julian Peterson was healthy, there will be times when Ulbrich lines up over the tight end.

--- WR Brandon Lloyd might be developing into the 49ers' top receiving option, after all. Lloyd caught just five passes for 36 yards in the first two games of the season and then missed two games with a groin pull. But in his last two games, Lloyd has caught 11 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns.

--- C Brock Gutierrez has done well enough as a starter in place of injured Jeremy Newberry that the 49ers did not put in a claim for Jason Ball, whom the Chargers released this week.

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