San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh confirmed in a conference call with the media that both running back Frank Gore (ankle) and safety Donte Whitner (hip) will be available this Sunday. Receiver Michael Crabtree (foot) also won’t miss the game.
“I expect them to play,” Harbaugh said.
It didn’t seem like Gore would be ready to play, but the confirmation by Harbaugh is a good sign for the 49ers. But how much will Gore play?
If Gore is 100-percent, it still doesn’t seem like the team will allow him to get the bulk of the snaps. Gore has struggled all season long to break out for big runs. Part of the problem has been the offensive line’s inability to open up holes. But with Gore’s known injury history, the 49ers might decide to give rookie Kendall Hunter more snaps.
Hunter scored the team’s only touchdown last Sunday and he has looked good in the few moments he has been on the field. But is he a better upgrade over Gore? Not so much. His yards per carry (2.7) is not that far off from Gore (2.5). Plus Hunter’s size and blocking skills is still a concern for the 49ers.
How should the 49ers handle the situation? It seems that Harbaugh will play by ear this Sunday. Gore’s going to get the chance to get the ball rolling and if he can jumpstart the offense, then expect the team to stick with him. But if Gore struggles, Hunter will be inserted and possibly used to finish off the remainder of the game.
From now until Sunday, a lot can change for Gore. Gore didn’t sound optimistic that he will play. And even though Gore will be available to play, there could be a chance that he might be physically ready to suit up. Regardless, the 49ers are already ready to insert Hunter into the game.
The 49ers hope they don’t have to rely on Hunter for a heavy shoulder load, but they will be ready if that is the case on Sunday.