The 49ers love what they see from defensive end Dee Ford, but they may not see him on the field at all Sunday against the Steelers.
Ford, who had a sack in his Niners debut in a Week 1 victory over Tampa Bay, is working through injuries to his quadriceps and knee and was held out of practices this week.
His status for Sunday’s matchup with Pittsburgh at Levi’s Stadium – the 49ers' home opener – isn’t promising.
"We’re going to play it safe," head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters Wednesday. "We’ll see here over the next two days, which makes me somewhat optimistic for the game. But we’ve got to play it day-to-day. It’s something he’s dealing with. Feels better now than it did after the game on Sunday, so, hopefully, that will continue."
Ford and top draft pick Nick Bosa make a nice pass-rush pair at the defensive end spots for the 49ers, but Bosa also is limping into Sunday with an ankle injury. He was limited in some practices this week but may play.
If Ford can’t go, Ronald Blair will start. And, judging by what he did in a win over the Bengals last week, Blair an the 49ers defensive line will be OK.
At Cincinnati, Blair had a sack and quarterback hit with five tackles, including three for loss.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle that Blair is even better than he was last year, when he had 5½ sacks.
"He looked fantastic and he’s looked like that, to me, his entire career," Saleh said. "It just goes unnoticed when he’s not the big name, he’s not the big draft pick."
With the Steelers giving Mason Rudolph his first NFL start at quarterback Sunday (with Ben Roethlisberger injured), the 49ers have the potential with their rush to disrupt the second-year passer and take advantage of mistakes. If Ford is unable to go, Saleh believes Blair will step up and make plays.
Oddsmakers believe the 49ers are primed to get their third straight win, as 6½-point favorites. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m.