By Jerrell Richardson
After a season with little or no injuries, the 49ers have been hit hard (no pun intended) as of late on the injury front. The most recent loss was wide receiver Mario Manningham, who suffered a torn ACL and PCL in his left knee and is done for the season. Manningham joins Kendall Hunter, Kyle Williams and Demarcus Dobbs as San Francisco players lost for the season to an injury. Not to be forgotten is the injury to Justin Smith that caused him to miss his first start as a 49er, and Vernon Davis who left the game with a concussion. With so many notable players suffering injuries, San Francisco will need someone to step up and fill the voids. They have the roster capable of doing this, but will need Justin Smith on the field, as he is not replaceable.
Add Another Name To The List
Mario Manningham was having a solid season. He was already battling a shoulder injury, and limited time in the preseason had him playing catch up. Despite these issues, he was still 3rd on the team in receptions and when healthy contributed. Due to the play of Michael Crabtree, this loss is not devastating, but it will be time for either rookie A.J. Jenkins to make his debut, of Randy Moss will be asked to play more. When the season started it seemed as though the team had too many wide-outs, and now they are very thin at the position. What does hurt is that Manningham has proven himself in the postseason, and his experience could be missed down the stretch.
Justin Smith Is Crucial To Post Season Success
Justin Smith is another story. The defense has not looked the same since he left the game against New England. The teams calling card has been their defense, and if they are without their leader up front they will be in trouble. This week, he will not be needed to beat Arizona, but the team will certainly need him once they enter the playoffs. While Justin Smith has been out of the lineup, Aldon Smith has not recorded a sack, the 49ers have not been able to stop the run, and with no pressure on the quarterback the secondary has struggled. The jury is still out on Smith and when he will return, but as he was a late scratch for last week, he should be fine in time of the playoffs.
Status of Vernon Davis Unknown
The concussion to Vernon Davis is a wild card. It could be what’s deemed a “mild” concussion, and the star tight end could be ready to play this week, or he could not pass the post concussion tests and be held out of action for an undetermined amount of time. As with Smith, the team can be without his services for one week, but will not be the same team if he is not 100% when back on the field. In his absence the team does have Delanie Walker, who is very talented, but not comparable to Davis. It will be interesting to see if Davis or Just Smith are on the field for the season finale if cleared to play, as if they re-aggravate their current injuries they could join the list of players done for the season.
To Play Or Not To Play
The final game of the season is for the NFC West, but even without Justin Smith, Vernon Davis, and another wide receiver stepping up, the 49ers should be able to beat Arizona. Even if they are unable to clinch the division on Sunday, they still have a spot in the playoffs, and that’s when all three will become important. The level of competition will be raised to a new level, so the defense will need to be clicking on all cylinders to give San Francisco a chance. This of course starts up front, where without Smith they are a shell of their former self. The offense will also need to elevate its level of play once the post season begins as well. In the playoffs it will come down to one or two big plays, and last year it appeared to be the passing game that came up short in this department. With a depleted receiving core, someone will need to step up, as without another viable threat outside, Michael Crabtree will be the only player for their opponents to worry about, and can rotate coverage to blanket Crabtree.
Still On Track
Despite the recent string of injuries, the 49ers are still a threat for the Super Bowl. The team still has all its major players on offense, and is not asking too much of the rest of the team to pick up the slack. San Francisco prides themselves on being the ultimate team, and if that’s the case, then it should only be expected for the next man up to step in and keep the team on course.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.