Engelberger, who started 13 games as a rookie in 2000 and 14 last year, came to training camp this year having added considerable bulk to his 6-foot-4 frame in an attempt to add more power to his slashing moves off the edge. He also was hoping to improve enough to hold off the formidable challenges to his starting role - and his playing time - presented by Chike Okeafor and Sean Moran.
Now, Engelberger has all but lost that starting role to Okeafor, at least for the Sept. 5 season opener against the New York Giants. Engelberger, who enters his third NFL season with seven sacks, will be considerably limited this week and is expected to be out 10 to 14 days.
"I guess it's a setback, but there's nothing I could do about it," Engelberger said. "I won't be able to do much for at least 10 days. If you come back too soon, they say you can get a hernia in your belly button, and I don't want that to happen. I just really don't want this thing to bother me."
But Engelberger knows this hardly is the right time for him to be taking it easy. He was fighting to hold off Okeafor for the starting role, just as he has been doing since late last season, and he perhaps was losing that fight. It won't get any easier when he attempts to come back before the opener and regain some of the playing time he has lost to others.
But he doesn't sound too concerned.
"It doesn't matter," Engelberger said. "They said they're going to rotate the defensive line a lot, so I guess you're going to get a lot of playing time anyway. It's a lot better today. It's getting better every single day. I'll be able to come back strong."
And Niners coach Steve Mariucci wasn't conceding Engelberger's position - or playing time - to anyone.
"When John gets back, he'll work in," Mariucci said. "The competition is very good there. They're both capable of playing, no question about it. Who starts and all of that, we haven't decided that yet."