SANTA CLARA Just who will pick up the slack for injured 49ers wide receiver Kyle Williams and running back Kendall Hunter is yet to be determined. The two were placed on injured reserve on Tuesday, and are done for the year after getting hurt on the same play in New Orleans on Sunday.
The quarterback situation is also unofficial at this point, as head coach Jim Harbaugh isnt expected to announce his starter until Wednesday, at the earliest.
The message from inside the San Francisco locker room, however, is crystal clear. No matter who suits up on Sunday against the Rams or is lined up when the ball is snapped, the players who spoke with the media on Tuesday projected a absolute belief in the roster from top to bottom.
Yeah, were very confident, safety Donte Whitner said. These guys have been on our developmental team, is what we like to call it here. Theyve been in two, three, four times a week, lifting and running, doing everything that we do in practice, and still going to the same meetings. So, when called upon, we expect guys to step up. We believe that they will.
That was a major hit. Kyle and Kendall are both go-to guys in our offense, running back Anthony Dixon said. They made a lot of plays for us this year, and to see them go down on one play man, thats crazy. We pride ourselves on being a stacked team, on being deep, and we just got to show up this week.
Frank Gore, who has 914 rushing yards on 5.2 yards-per-carry and five touchdowns, will continue to get the majority of carries. But after that, its up in the air. Second-round pick LaMichael James may be the most intriguing option, although Dixon and Brandon Jacobs are also available.
Dixon has just 48 yards on 12 carries this season, while Jacobs didnt get his first touch until last Sundays game against New Orleans, when he carried it once for a single yard.
James, a 5-9, 185-pounder out of Oregon, could provide a change of pace in the backfield from the bruising Gore, just as Jenkins was doing before his injury. In fact, Whitner compared him to a player that the Niners saw just last weekend.
Hes a guy similar to Saints running back Darren Sproles. He can still carry the ball up inside. I know hes anxious to get out there and play, Whitner said.
Dixon, too, was complimentary of his teammate in the backfield.
I expect dynamic plays, man, Dixon said. I watch him every day on the practice field, and hes making plays, going up to get the ball. They have him doing Percy Harvin stuff when were playing teams like that, and he really is a great talent. I feel like hes going to come in and make plays. I know hes hungry. He hasnt got the chance to really get his feet wet yet, so I know hell come in with the hunger. I expect a lot of great plays out of him.
Gore said: "He's been working hard, he's been practicing hard. I know he wants to play. I know running backs coach Tom Rathman or coach Harbaugh, if they decide he'll be the next guy, I know coach Rathman will get him ready to play."
As for the recent opening at the wide receiver position, theres a chance 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins could get on the field. If thats the case, Whitner, who has spent plenty of time covering him in practice, appeared anxious to see what Jenkins can bring.
A.J. is an extremely talented guy. He came in here, and we have a lot of depth at wide receiver, but hes been getting better and better as hes been going against the first team defensive backs in practice. Hes actually made some plays on us, and made some big plays, Whitner said.
Colin Kaepernick made a brief appearance in the San Francisco locker room to get dressed, and was quickly surrounded by microphones, cameras and iPhone voice memo recorders. After a brief chat with a Niners PR rep, though, the media was informed that the probable starter for Sunday wouldnt be talking until Wednesday.
The team has still not been informed whether it will be Kaepernick or Alex Smith behind center on Sunday, according to Whitner.
They havent told us who that guy is. Thats all coachs decision. I know Alex really wants to get in there and I know Kap really wants to get in there.
It is a tough situation, especially when you have a good football team and those guys are really good competitors. Its tough. I believe that coach will make the right decision on which guy he wants to go with, and that guy will go in there and do an outstanding job for us.
Kaepernick, of course, has played very well the past two weeks, leading the Niners to wins over the Bears and Saints after Smith suffered a concussion the previous week against St. Louis.
Gore said: "Kap's a football player. We've got two good quarterbacks. Whatever way coach decides to go, we're behind him. They're both going to play well. It don't matter."
Gore was unambiguous in stating theres no fear of a quarterback dilemma dividing the locker room.
"That's not here, he said. We're a team. That's one thing about our locker room. We're one. We're all as one. If it's Alex, we're going to be behind Alex. If it's Kap, we're going to be behind Kap."