Troy Wilson worked out for the 49ers last week. He was signed by the team on Tuesday. He practiced for the first time with the Niners on Wednesday. By Sunday, he could be their starting left defensive end against the Green Bay Packers in an NFC wild card showdown.
That's a pretty quick progression for a player who hasn't played a snap in the NFL this season. But with the Niners hurting at defensive end with Chike Okeafor and John Engelberger battling injuries, Wilson may have to be ready to step in against the Packers.
"We haven't decided who will start, but he can," Niners defensive coordinator Jim Mora said. "He's a smart guy and we're fortunate he's been here and played. He's been in the system before. Fortunately, (defensive end) is a position where you can learn pretty quickly. There are not a lot of adjustments to make."
Wilson was selected by the 49ers in the seventh round of the 1993 draft and had 5.5 sacks in his rookie season despite playing in only 10 games as a reserve. He had two sacks in 1994, when he won a Super Bowl championship ring before being released in training camp the next season. He also was with the team in training camp in 1998 before signing with New Orleans later that year. His experience with the Niners could come in handy this week. Okeafor (fractured fibula) and Engelberger (high ankle sprain) both are listed as questionable on the injury report, but both have seemed less likely than that to play. Neither practiced Wednesday or Thursday, though "they are going to give it a shot (Friday)," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said Thursday.
That leaves Wilson and first-year reserve Bobby Setzer sharing time at left end, a scenario that likely will carry over to Sunday, when the Niners will need a strong pass rush to get after Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre. Which means Wilson better get ready fast. He got a lot of work in during practice Thursday.
"He did. He needs to get back at it," Mariucci said. "We're practicing him a little in the kicking game and a little on defense."
Wilson had 5.5 sacks with the Saints in 1999 and played for the Chicago Bears last season. But he was not invited to any training camp this season, and had not had any tryouts until the Niners came calling last week. A seven-year veteran, the 31-year-old Wilson felt his experience worked against him in that any team that signed him would have had to pay him the veteran's minimum of $477,000 this season.
"I had anticipated having an opportunity sooner," Wilson said. "But I've come to conclusion that, based on how this worked out, this is a blessing to come somewhere I'm familar with and have an opportunity."