Key contributors out vs. Packers and beyond

The 49ers have remained relatively fortunate when it comes to injuries this season, but they could be without as many as five key contributors in Sunday's game against the Packers. The team will certainly be without linebacker Derek Smith - San Francisco's leading tackler - and backup tight end Eric Johnson and rotating right tackle Adam Snyder also will miss the game, and perhaps more after that.

"All the ones who are out this week could go beyond this week," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said.

Smith is out after sustaining a left hamstring pull in the fourth quarter of last week's 34-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Snyder went down with sprains to his right knee and ankle in the first quarter just three plays after rotating into the game for starting right tackle Kwame Harris.

Johnson, who started eight games this season in place of rookie Vernon Davis, sustained a left knee sprain in practice last week and is listed as being out 2-3 weeks after missing the New Orleans game.

The 49ers hope to get starting right cornerback Shawntae Spencer back in the lineup after he sustained a right ankle sprain against the Seahawks on Nov. 19. He has already missed two games with the injury, but returned to practice with the team on Wednesday. Spencer is listed as questionable to play against the Packers.

Defensive tackle Anthony Adams, who started the first five games this season but now sees time as a reserve in the defensive line rotation, also didn't practice because of a sprained knee. Adams was not originally listed on the injury report following the New Orleans game, but later was diagnosed with the knee injury and is questionable to play against the Packers.

With Johnson out, Davis played all 47 of San Francisco's offensive snaps last week, and the 49ers also gave playing time in two tight-end sets to second-year pro Billy Bajema and rookie Delanie Walker, which eased the impact of Johnson's loss.

Snyder, who started two games at left tackle and three at left guard this season, is considered San Francisco's top backup along the offensive line, but the team has had him focusing on the tackle position the past month while rotating with Harris.

Second-year pros Patrick Estes and Harvey Dahl are the other tackles on San Francisco's 53-man roster behind Harris and starting left tackle Jonas Jennings, who also was held out of practice Wednesday to nurse an ankle injury. Jennings is listed as probable to play against the Packers.

The most difficult injured player to replace figures to be Smith, the team's leading tackler in each of the past five seasons who also leads the 49ers this year with 89 tackles through 12 games despite playing with a muscle strain in his left eye that affects his range of vision and limits the movement of his eyeball.

Nolan did not say who would replace Smith in the starting lineup, though the obvious choice would be Jeff Ulbrich, who has started 64 games over the past five seasons and started six games at right inside linebacker this season before being replaced in the lineup by Brandon Moore.

The Niners also signed seven-year NFL veteran Jay Foreman on Tuesday to add to the mix at linebacker with Smith out.

"As far as the linebacker position goes, practice will determine who goes in there, but we did bring in Jay Foreman," Nolan said. "It might be a little bit of a reach to think that he would start this early. Right now, Jeff Ulbrich looks like he will be working in there with Brandon Moore. Hannibal Navies has done a good job for us, but he is more of an outside guy. As far as who starts this week, we probably won't know until the end of the week."

Navies, who was signed by San Francisco on Nov. 22, started last week when the 49ers began the game in a 3-4 defensive set and was third on the team with six tackles. The 49ers switched back to their standard 4-3 alignment later in the game after falling behind as New Orleans started leaning toward its run game.

"Hannibal has shown in the two brief weeks that he has been here that he could help our football team," said Nolan, who also indicated veteran Renauld Williams could be elevated from the practice squad this week to add depth at linebacker. "We'll continue to do 4-3, and (some) 3-4 as we did in that ball game. From a game plan standpoint, we'll continue to work with it. Whatever the game dictates by opponent, we'll do."

One thing the 49ers, with the final quarter of their season still to play, won't be doing any time soon is putting anybody on injured reserve. Though their injuries potentially could linger to the end of December, Nolan said he expected Smith, Snyder and Johnson to recover before the season is over.

"At what point they come back, I don't know," Nolan said. "I believe that Eric might be back sooner than Adam, but I don't know that for sure. I expect (Smith) back, whether it's a week or two weeks, to finish out the season. At this time, there's still a lot to accomplish this year, and Derek, being one of our better players, I don't want to dismiss. With four games to go, if we could get him back for three, or even two, it's worth keeping him alive, so I don't want to do it for that reason. At this time, it's not that extensive of an injury."

Since the season started, the 49ers have placed only two players on injured reserve. Rookie defensive end Parys Haralson went on IR with a torn chest muscle after playing seven games, and linebacker T.J. Slaughter played 10 games before seeing his season end with a torn finger tendon.


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