49ers running out of safeties

The 49ers have two new injuries at safety. That's to go along with a lot of old ones. The current starting strong safety, John Keith – who was on the practice squad just a month ago – had surgery Monday to repair a broken left thumb. The current starting free safety, Tony Parrish, has ligament damage in his right elbow. That had Niners coach Steve Mariucci saying on Monday, "The safety position has been hit big-time. I asked (secondary coach) Brett Maxie if he wants to play any more."

For the record, Maxie – who played 13 years in the NFL, including his last season in 1997 with the Niners – says that's a little unrealistic, though he looks physically like he could suit up today.


"I'm 40 years old, for crying out loud," Maxie said. "But would he have taken me seriously if I told him I was ready? The situation that we're in? Yes, he probably would have taken me seriously. We're hurting right now."


And Mariucci's joking reference to Maxie suiting up is a good indication just how much the Niners really are hurting right now along their last line of defense.


Parrish, the regular starting strong safety, was forced to move back to free last week against Seattle because Zack Bronson and Ronnie Heard already are on the shelf with injuries. Bronson, the regular free safety who was a Pro Bowl candidate before he was injured in October, will be out at least a few more weeks with a broken foot. Heard – who took Bronson's place in the starting lineup – missed the Seattle game with an injured right ankle, an injury that likely will keep him out of Sunday's game against the Cowboys in Dallas.


That forced Keith – the third-year veteran who was cut by the Niners in August because he still had not recovered from a knee injury – into the starting lineup for the first time since his rookie season of 2000.


The Niners began the season with only three safeties – Bronson, Parrish and Heard – on their roster. Bronson and Heard won't play this week and might not be ready for a Dec. 15 showdown with Green Bay, either. Parrish now must wait for swelling to go down in his elbow to see if he'll be ready Sunday. The Niners expect that Keith will be ready to play with a cast on his hand.


"I was pretty much throwing my body at guys to make tackles (Sunday)," said Parrish, one of the team's defensive MVPs this season. "I plan to play. I'll do whatever I can to get back on the field. I'm going to get fitted for a brace and we'll see what happens. I played with (the injury) after I did it, so if I played with it then, I can do it now."


The Niners lost fourth-round draft pick Kevin Curtis to a season-ending knee injury during the preseason. Curtis would have been the team's fourth safety had he remained healthy, and perhaps he'd be starting right now with all the injuries. It has gotten so bad for the Niners that the team had cornerback Rashad Holman playing at the safety position in the second half against Seattle.


Holman remains an emergency alternative this week. The team also might consider signing another safety, such as Al Blades, later in the week if the status of Parrish and/or Keith is in question.


"We're going to explore some other options in case John is limited with his hand and Tony just flat out can't play," Maxie said.


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