49ers passing on Baas again?

When 49ers center Eric Heitmann sustained a broken right leg and was carted off the field last Thursday in the first quarter against Seattle, some were surprised that the person chosen to replace him was not David Baas, who was passed over for the second time this season when a key interior offensive lineman went down with an injury.

After all, Baas was chosen with the No. 33 overall pick in the 2005 draft. He started five games at right guard as a rookie and played well during that stint, but he has been stuck this season as a backup. Baas spent training camp working at both guard and center.

Instead, the 49ers turned to Tony Wragge, 27, a player who saw action in three games in 2002 and had not played again in the NFL until this season when he went into the season opener on San Francisco's first offensive series to replace left guard Larry Allen, who was injured on the team's sixth play from scrimmage and missed the next five games with a knee injury.

Wragge started in Allen's place again in San Francisco's Week 2 game against St. Louis, and he also played well at center after replacing Heitmann last week.

"For right now, Tony has played well when he's been in there for the reps that he has gotten," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "And there's absolutely no disappointment in David Baas. I am very anxious to get David in the game and play like he did last year, because he's a gamer and he plays well.

"(But) for right now, Tony has been in the middle and I think he has more NFL game experience than David has right now, and the calls that go with it. He played well in the (Seattle) game, and I'm certain that David would do a good job if he went in. That's really where it is at. David will have to play at some point and he will do a good job."

That point doesn't seem to be this week against the Arizona Cardinals, as it again appears Wragge will step in at center in place of Heitmann, though both players are working at the position in practice.

"When Wragge came in, he did a great job," said running back Frank Gore, who rushed for 144 yards against Seattle - most of them coming after Wragge entered the game - and now leads the NFC with 1,491 yards. "It's a big loss that's Heitmann's gone, but I know my other guys, they work hard and they love to do their job. There‘s no question they‘re going to still be opening holes."

Baas worked at left guard and center during training camp. But he has been the backup at right guard for a while, Nolan said. Wragge was the backup at left guard and center.

"It's never fun to be moved around and not detail yourself at a certain position," Baas said. "But you have to be able to move to different positions. Maybe someday they'll name me a tackle."

Baas said he has cut down dramatically on the number of mental mistakes he commits during practice. And Nolan has said that his practice habits have noticeable improved in the past couple months.

"Nothing can describe the emotion some players feel when they get out on the field, and everything else is gone and you're ready to destroy somebody," Baas said. "There's always going to be a difference between practicing and playing. I always try to a focus on being better in practice, in terms of tempo or my hand placement. I'm still working on that. I want to get to the Larry Allen level, where his feet are perfect and his hands are perfect."

Whether it's Wragge of Baas, the 49ers seem good to go at center, even after losing one of their best players on their offensive line.

"It's a tough loss to lose Eric," quarterback Alex Smith said. "He's the only center I've ever played with. But Tony's played extremely well stepping in and being ready to go and being prepared, and he played extremely well on Thursday. I'm sure whoever does go in at center will be prepared and ready to go."


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