The 49ers head into Denver tomorrow to face the Broncos in a game highlighted by the Alex Smith-Peyton Manning storyline. While that will likely dominate Joe Buck and Troy Aikman's first half discussion, we know there are plenty more important issues and storylines to follow in this game. The performance of Alex Smith and the defensive performance against Peyton Manning, but this has nothing to do with Smith VERSUS Manning.
The 49ers will be dealing with a variety of injuries that will change their approach a bit on both sides of the ball. The most notable injuries are to Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James. Jacobs is out for this game, and likely next week's as well, but there has been no specific word on James. He was in pads earlier this week, but there is no word on whether he took part in the team drills that are not available for media viewing.
These injuries ensure Anthony Dixon will get a sizable work load, even if James plays. Rock Cartwright may find himself getting some extra carries as well, but I have to think Dixon will get more carries than anybody tomorrow. My guess is Kendall Hunter gets the second most carries, handling a majority of the first half work.
Chris Culliver and NaVorro Bowman both missed practices this week as well. Culliver is a definite no-go tomorrow, but there is no word on Bowman. If Bowman can't play, Larry Grant would move up into the starting lineup, with Michael Wilhoite and Joe Holland likely getting some additional work between Grant and Patrick Willis.
Culliver's absence is a little bit more intriguing since we'll get to see who the 49ers go with as their outside cornerback in the nickel. When the 49ers go to their nickel, Carlos Rogers moves into the slot and Culliver goes outside opposite Tarell Brown. Thus far, Perrish Cox has gotten work at both the slot and outside corner positions, while Tramaine Brock has been focused on just the outside corner position. Cox has received plenty of praise this preseason, but Brock remains ahead of him on the 49ers depth chart.
Finally, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks have both returned to practice, although at times Smith was a bit slow still in the recovery from his hip injury. Last week, the 49ers ended up giving Demarcus Dobbs some opportunities as the nickel defensive end over Eric Bakhtiari. It will be interesting to see if the 49ers go with a similar approach this week. If Dobbs can handle that role, Bakhtiari could find himself out of a job in a week. Kourtnei Brown has missed some practice time with a leg (possible hamstring) issue, so Dobbs or Bakhtiari could further help themselves in relation to Brown.