Shakeup at safety as Curtis tears MCL

The landscape at safety changed suddenly for the 49ers on Sunday when a Magnetic Resonance Imaging exam revealed that rookie Kevin Curtis, the team's fourth-round draft choice, has a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee. With the health status of John Keith and Al Blades also uncertain, the Niners are down to only three experienced safeties with three preseason games still remaining. "He's got a significant injury," coach Steve Mariucci said Sunday night regarding Curtis' condition.

"As far as the number of weeks he'll be out, it's hard to say right now," Mariucci continued. "We have to make the decision of whether it's best to rehab the knee and see if he can get healthy, or if repair is the alternative."

Curtis' leg buckled when he was covering a kickoff after a player slammed into him from behind during Saturday night's 17-14 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Curtis wasn't in severe pain after the game and didn't believe he'd hurt his knee too bad because he didn't hear any ligaments pop during the play. But the MRI revealed a tear that was worse than expected.


"It's a matter of several weeks if they choose to rehab," Mariucci said. "We're not going to have him for a while. That makes us a little thin there. John Keith hasn't practiced, and Al Blades is in a boot."

Keith, who started as a rookie in 2000, is coming back from a season-ending knee injury he sustained on the opening kickoff of the season opener last year. Blades continues to be hampered by an ankle injury. Keith, who returned to practice last week for the first time since his injury, remains limited in practice sessions.

But Curtis's injury practically guarantees that Keith or Blades - or both - will make the team, if both can show the Niners they are healthy and can perform. That couldn't be said before, because Curtis was having a good camp and was securing himself a position on the roster as the fourth safety behind starters Tony Parrish and Zack Bronson and backup Ronnie Heard.

Keith and Blades, however, still could miss significant preseason time due to their injuries.

As for Curtis' roster status, Mariucci said, "I don't know how to answer that. It depends on how many weeks he'll be out. If it gets to be lengthy, a decision will have to be made as to how he's kept around, and he would certainly have very little practice time."

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