Back from the bye: O-line ready to start over

The 49ers are expected to start their opening-week offensive line for the first time since, well, the opening week. Left guard Larry Allen and left tackle Jonas Jennings are slated to be in the starting lineup Sunday when the 49ers, a 16-point underdog, take on the unbeaten Bears at Soldier Field.

Allen practiced with the club during the bye week and is expected to get back into the starting line after sustaining a medial collateral sprain of his left knee on the sixth play of the season. He has not played since the Sept. 10 opener at Arizona.

Also, Jennings, who has missed all or parts of four games this season, is expected to return to the playing field. Jennings missed action with a right ankle sprain. He also sat out most of two full games with a wrist sprain and an injured little finger on his left hand.

Jennings - the most expensive free agent signed by the team so far during the two years of the Mike Nolan era - has been prone to injury since joining the 49ers last year after inking a seven-year, $36 million deal that featured $12 million in guaranteed money.

Jennings - who missed 13 games in his debut season with the 49ers last year due to a shoulder injury - has missed at least one game to injury in each of his six NFL seasons, four or more in three of those seasons (with 10 games remaining to reach that total this year), and 27 in all. He has missed 68 percent of the 22 games the 49ers have played since his arrival.

But he slated to return from his latest injury this week, and the addition of Allen and Jennings should only improve the 49ers' ground game. The team is averaging 4.5 yards a carry, led by leading rusher Frank Gore.

The 49ers might have to wait a couple of weeks for the return of rookie tight end Vernon Davis, who sustained a hairline fracture of his right leg on Sept. 24 against the Eagles. He is out for this week, and probably will also miss the Nov. 5 home game against Minnesota. He might return to action Nov. 12 against the Lions.

San Francisco expects veteran cornerback Walt Harris to return to the lineup in Chicago. Harris missed the Oct. 15 game prior to the bye with a left hamstring strain. Harris, who began his career in Chicago as the Bears' first-round draft pick in 1996, has been the best player on the 49ers' beleaguered defense this season.

***** ***** *****

Though second-year player Adam Snyder has played well in starting stints in place of both Allen and Jennings, Nolan said Snyder will return to the bench this week and fill a role as the team's top reserve lineman.

"Adam will swing at the tackle position," Nolan said. "Kind of like how we went in the (season) opener. He'd be the swing, the backup at those two (tackle) positions right now. If they're all healthy, it will look like it did when we opened the season."

It has been speculated since early in the year that Snyder would unseat 2003 first-round draft pick Kwame Harris as the starting right tackle this season, but that has yet to happen, even though Harris' performance has been up and down this season while Snyder has been steady.

"Adam is a good player and certainly has a right to play," Nolan said. "(But) everything was slowed by training camp (injuries), as far as competition goes. We've got a solid group. We'll see what the game plan brings. (The line continuity) has already been messed with from an injury standpoint. It's really just a case of how we want to work Adam in, and if we work him in, where do we do it. We'll see how it works out."

***** ***** *****

Quarterback Gibran Hamdan was signed from the 49ers practice squad to the Seattle Seahawks 53-man roster on Tuesday. The 49ers filled the extra spot on the eight-man practice squad with place-kicker Shaun Suisham.

Hamdan was signed by the 49ers in late August after being released by the Seahawks, who now are looking for some backup help at quarterback after the loss of starter Matt Hasselbeck to a knee injury.

Suisham (6-foot, 205 pounds) was originally signed by Pittsburgh as a rookie free agent in 2005 out of Bowling Green. After being waived by the Steelers in training camp, he joined the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad. He later was signed to the 53-mnan roster and played in three games. Suisham went to camp with Dallas this past summer and played three games with Dallas before being signed to the practice squad. He was waived by Dallas on October 17.

***** ***** *****

Nolan intimated that part of the 49ers' problems in pass defense is that the safeties and cornerbacks have not won the confidence of each other. The 49ers return from their bye week ranked 30th in the NFL in passing defense and tied for 30th in touchdowns allowed through the air.

Harris has been the team's best defensive back. The other cornerback, Shawntae Spencer, has been up and down, but he is the team's second-best defensive back.

Mark Roman has taken over most of the playing time at strong safety from Tony Parrish, and Keith Lewis is expected to start splitting time with starting free safety Mike Adams.

"The four guys work together," Nolan said. "It's difficult as a corner if you don't have a lot of confidence you're going to get help. And the same thing from the safety. If you know you're not going to get help from a corner at times, it's not ... well, it looks a little bit like it does right now for us."

***** ***** *****

Quarterback Alex Smith threw a couple of blocks Oct. 15 against the Chargers on end-around plays. Smith did his job on blocks against linebackers Shaun Phillips and Stephen Cooper.

"Norv (Turner) is always telling me to be smart," Smith said of his offensive coordinator. "You can always protect yourself as long as you're smart about it. You don't want to hit a linebacker or a big lineman up high. You can get down and protect yourself."

When he's not blocking on end-arounds, Smith has been doing a good job of avoiding sacks this season. He has been sacked just 13 times after begin sacked 29 times a year ago in fewer passing attempts. Smith also is the 49ers' third-leading rusher with 59 yards on 15 attempts, including a career-best 22-yard run.

***** ***** *****

Defensive tackle Anthony Adams was fined last week for his unnecessary-roughness penalty on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Adams, who was called for the late hit, was fined $5,000.

Adams, a fourth-year veteran, appears to have lost the starting job he has held since his second season to second-year player Ron Fields, who had his NFL start in place of Adams in the loss to the Chargers.

***** ***** *****

Gore entered the year with a lot of questions about his durability, but he has answered by being a workhorse while carrying a substantial load through the first stage of San Francisco's season.

Through the first six games, Gore is averaging 22.7 touches per game. He has carried 112 times for 520 yards while catching a team-leading 24 passes for 202 yards.

Niners Digest Top Stories