While the 49ers have been enjoying their best season in years, veteran offensive tackle Joe Staley hasn’t been able to play a large role.
Staley has just played three games because of injuries. Injured in Week 2’s victory over Cincinnati, he had to sit out until the Nov. 11 game against Seattle. He played every offensive snap of that overtime loss, but was injured again and has been sidelined since.
Now, he’s returned to practice and is eager to get back in the lineup Sunday for a big matchup of 10-2 teams in New Orleans. Head coach Kyle Shanahan hasn’t said for certain that Staley will make his playing return Sunday, but it seems likely.
First Staley had to heal from a leg fracture. Then, a finger fracture.
Because he’s been extremely durable during his career, Staley wasn’t used to sitting and watching his teammates play. He says it’s been "hard" to not take part after not being on a winning team for several years.
"I’ve been kind of waiting around for the team to be what it is right now, and just feeling like not a part of it," he told reporters. "But the guys, the teammates, on the days that I’ve not been doing well (were) keeping me up. We have a great coaching staff and I’m ready to go and just take it one day at a time."
Staley will return in time for the 49ers’ final four-game run, which the team hopes will end with an NFC West title and a top seed in the NFC playoffs. To do that, the 49ers will need to finish strong against the Saints, Falcons, Rams and Seahawks.
He says the time off has been good for his body.
"I’m just excited to get back out there and start working," he said.
Also returning to practice this week in Florida have been defensive end Dee Ford, running back Matt Breida and cornerback Richard Sherman, who was hurt during the game against the Ravens this past Sunday.
Sunday’s game in New Orleans is set to kick off at 10 a.m.