On Thursday, afternoon, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh met with the media following practice (transcript). The press conference took place after Patrick Willis put on a cast, and Chris Culliver had gone down with a knee injury (but prior to announcement of it being a torn ACL). While he did acknowledge the injuries, he focused on the fact that these injuries provide opportunities for the backups.
"What it means right now is there's guys that are getting an opportunity to show what they can do. If there's a positive there. And there's people that are doing that."
The 49ers have dealt with several injuries during training camp that have impacted the depth chart. The 49ers released their preseason Week 1 depth chart, which gives us an idea of who will slowly move up from further down.
The loss of Culliver is the most prominent area where we will see players deeper down the depth chart get more chances. We'll continue talking plenty about Nnamdi Asomugha, but Tramaine Brock is the guy who has bumped up to the starting lineup for now. Carlos Rogers starts opposite Tarell Brown in the base defense, but Brock has been starting at left cornerback when the team goes to the nickel. Brock has had some opportunities in the past, but a 2011 broken hand seemed to slow down his progress as a cornerback. Since then he has played primarily on special teams, with the occasional snap at cornerback during the season.
Culliver's injury also opens the door for Perrish Cox to continue getting additional opportunities. He had some inconsistencies in the dime role last year, but I keep telling myself that a full year back means he could potentially take that next step. For now he'll at least have a chance at some more practice time.
And of course, there are Marcus Cooper and Darryl Morris. While both face fairly long odds of making the 53-man roster, both are getting more snaps with one less body out there. At the very least, it gives them more face time to impress the coaching staff.
While cornerback has gotten all the play lately, inside linebacker will provide an opportunity to see what the younger guys can do. Patrick Willis fractured a bone in his hand, and is wearing a cast. Coach Harbaugh indicated Willis would be back for Week 1, but I imagine we will see very little of him in preseason action.
Michael Wilhoite has moved into the starting lineup while Patrick Willis is sidelined. Wilhoite has been a special teams guy during his limited time with the team, but there has been universal praise for him this offseason. He will get some serious opportunities this preseason to prove he could potentially be the guy to replace Larry Grant in the utility ILB role. Grant performed that role admirably the last two seasons. The 49ers let Grant walk, and with a suspension looming, there is no sign Grant will be back with the 49ers in 2013.
Along with Wilhoite, Nate Stupar is getting some additional opportunities. NaVorro Bowman has been dealing with some bumps and bruises, including a groin strain this past week. It sounds like Bowman is pretty much alright, but I imagine the 49ers will look to keep him fairly limited in the preseason. I suspect we'll see as much of Wilhoite and Stupar next to each other as anything else.
This also means Nick Moody and the recently acquired Travis Johnson will get a good deal of playing time the next few weeks. The 49ers only have four inside linebackers alongside Willis and Bowman. Dan Skuta is listed as an outside linebacker, but has extensive ILB experience, so it would not surprise me to see him get some snaps inside.