The San Francisco (line) shuffle

Follow along closely to understand what the 49ers plan to do Saturday night against the Kansas City Chiefs: Dave Fiore, the team's starting left guard, will start at center. Matt Willig, the versatile lineman best suited to tackle, will start at Fiore's guard position. Either reserve Dave Costa or rookie Eric Heitmann will start at right guard. And those two along with Chad Ward will be alternating all evening at the guard positions. An offensive line in flux in August? You could say that.

The Niners will be switching guards to center, and tackles to guard and virtually having players out of position all over the place along their line because Pro Bowl center Jeremy Newberry and All-Pro guard Ron Stone both are out with injuries, and the trickle-down effect has the team trying its young prospects at several positions.

But Niners offensive line coach Pat Morris isn't worried about it. In fact, he can see a silver lining in an otherwise cloudy situation.

"The best thing is," Morris was saying Friday morning, "is it's the preseason. And that (injuries to key starters) could happen in the middle of the season. Therefore, if you experience it in the preseason, then the adjustment that's going to happen in the regular season, it makes that adjustment easier because it happened in the preseason. Because it happens, you know. Some years you are lucky, knock on wood. You don't have any injuries throughout the season. But they are going to happen so you've got to be able to react to them and not miss a beat."

The Niners are reacting right now. Newberry was injured during the second day of training camp and hasn't practiced since. Stone was hurt in the opening quarter of the first exhibition game. The good news is neither injury is serious, and both players could be practicing by next week. Coach Steve Mariucci said it still was a longshot both Newberry and Stone would play in the Aug. 19 exhibition game at Denver, "But they're getting closer," Mariucci said. "If not that game, certainly the next game, I would think."

The Niners also will work recently-signed center Ben Lynch back into the mix, and will try to give Fiore some time at his guard position before he leaves along with the rest of the starters after about one quarter. The regular starters will be together soon enough for San Francisco's line to enjoy the success and stability it had the past two seasons, Morris said.

"We have an extra (preseason) game," Morris said. "So this is like the beginning of a normal preseason right now. So this is early. I think if we get Ron back next week, we still have plenty of time to keep the continuity."



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