What would Niners do without Zack Bronson?

We've seen that the 49ers can get by without linebacker Jeff Ulbrich. But what will they do Sunday if free safety Zack Bronson can't go against the Washington Redskins? Bronson was upgraded Wednesday from doubtful to questionable for Sunday and Ulbrich practiced and is listed as probable, but nobody knows for sure yet if either will be ready for the game.

To be sure, the team needs Bronson in the lineup against the pass-minded Redskins. And Bronson talks like a man who plans to play, despite missing practice Wednesday with an AC joint sprain that probably wouldn't have allowed him to play if Sunday's game were today.

"I'm feeling a lot better," Bronson said. "I expect to play every week. And if I can, I will. It's one of those things where I just have to be smart, and I just have to see what happens. We've got guys that can step in and we'll be fine."

Actually, the Niners will be scrambling big-time if Bronson can't play. The Redskins will be coming out often in four wide-receivers sets, and if Bronson can't play, the Niners will only have three safeties on their roster - one of whom hasn't played a down with the team this year.

Taking Bronson's place in the lineup will be third-year player Ronnie Heard, who didn't exactly distinguish himself against the Broncos last week after Bronson was injured. Heard also is a key player in the team's nickel and dime coverage units and special teams units. Heard was the team's special teams game captain last week against Denver.

"If Bronson can't go, Ronnie will start and then we might limit his role in the kicking game, give him a breather once in a while," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said Wednesday afternoon. "If Zack can't go, then Jason Moore will be active as a safety. Rashad Holman is also a candidate to be a safety. He's been training at that for a while, as an emergency guy."

Moore was signed by the team Tuesday and hardly appears ready to step into live coverage situations. The team also considered bringing up John Keith from the practice squad, but Mariucci said, "John wanted to be up, but we feel he needs a little more time of working out, practicing, rehabbing and training before we have live contact with him."

Ulbrich returned to full practice Wednesday, but the team is not sure if he'll play despite his probable status. With Jamie Winborn playing well in Ulbrich's place, there is no need to rush him back with a bye week looming.

"We haven't decided if he's up for sure yet," Mariucci said. "He has to practice and feel good about it. We have to talk about how we will use our linebackers, and a lot of it is going to depend on Jeff's health. If he's not quite there, we'll wait for the Rams game. If he feels pretty good, makes it through the week of practice OK, maybe we work him in there gradually."


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