The Next Man Up? Larry Grant Possibly Starting for Injured Patrick Willis Sunday

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 04: Larry Grant #54 of the San Francisco 49ers loses his helmet while tackling Steven Jackson #39 of the St Louis Rams at Candlestick Park on December 4, 2011 in San Francisco, California. The 49ers won the game 26-0. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Last week in the win against the St. Louis Rams, all-star linebacker Patrick Willis went down in the first quarter with a hamstring injury. By the look of the play on which he hurt it, it appeared to be a pull or strain of some sort --- to which degree, I don't know and Coach Harbaugh won't tell. With his status remaining unclear at this point and playoff berth locked up, Larry Grant could get the go-ahead to start this weekend in place of Willis.

Grant, a free-agent acquisition, played well in place of the injured Willis; even though it was against a relatively weak opponent. Nevertheless, I liked what I saw from the most part. Overall, I think this guy fits the 49er football way of doing things. Against the Rams, Grant played downhill and was fierce at the point of attack, like Niners linebackers are.

The 49ers defense pitched a shutout that day, their first of the season, and Grant had his name called on a few nice plays. The two splash plays he had came when he sacked A.J. Feeley and when he stopped Steven Jackson cold, jarring his own helmet loose. If Grant starts Sunday, the coaches almost certainly won't give him more than they think he can handle.

But Grant knows the playbook, having relayed the plays in Willis' absence, and allowed NaVorro Bowman to stay in his regular position. He seems to understand gap defense and plays it well; he didn't miss tackles when he got his hands on the ball-carrier and should be formidable against the run. If Arizona tries to take advantage of the Grant, it will likely be in the passing game.

However, as I watched Grant against St. Louis, he didn't appear to be a liability in coverage. There were some times in zone coverage when I wish he would have improvised a little bit and stick the nearest receiver a little better, but it never resulted in anything against San Francisco. I think Grant showed he could step in and the team could continue one of it's motto's of "the next man up."

I don't think many 49er fans would mind if Willis sat the next one out against the Arizona Cardinals to rest up for Pittsburgh at home on Monday Night Football. Even though I consider Willis the heart and soul of this football team, I think this is a winnable game without him. Willis is one of many talented players on the 49er defense this year playing at a Pro Bowl level.

Follow me on Twitter: @DeSimone80

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