Niners Are Limping Toward Exhibition Opener

Injuries to Dorsey, Hunter, James already have impacted 49ers depth and plans for 2014 season

After a very productive offseason, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke was very excited about his team’s prospects in early July.

Through free agency, the draft and the fact several young players would be able to challenge for playing time after sitting out their rookie seasons – such as Tank Carradine and Marcus Lattimore – Baalke told reporters he liked the talent and depth of his group.

“We feel good, obviously, about the roster as it stands,” he said.

Less than a month later, however, the 49ers aren’t as deep as they once were.

They entered training camp already knowing that star linebacker NaVorro Bowman won’t be available unitl midseason at the earliest. But since then, running backs LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter have gone down with serious injuries, as has starting nose tackle Glenn Dorsey. Hunter and Dorsey are lost for the season. Now receivers Michael Crabtree and Brandon Lloyd will likely miss a week or two of practice to allow some leg ailments to get right. Plus, right guard Alex Boone is still holding out, which impacts depth on the offensive line.

Fortunately, all of Baalke’s work has given head coach Jim Harbaugh plenty of options. Rookie Carlos Hyde, Jewel Hampton and Lattimore can step in for Hunter (although Lattimore has yet to be cleared to practice); and Quinton Dial and Tony Jarod-Eddie – and eventually Ian Williams – can play nose tackle.

The question will be whether those players can play at the same level, and right from Game 1.

As Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle noted Sunday after the injury to Dorsey, the Niners have been somewhat fortunate under Harbaugh to be able to dodge or overcome injuries. But with still weeks of training camp and four exhibition games to play, will that trend continue?

“No team has played more games the last three seasons than the 49ers,” wrote Lynch. “And coach Jim Harbaugh is known for running one of the more arduous training camps in the league. You wonder if it all might be catching up to this team.”

Regarding the latest injury to Dorsey, Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said he and the team and coaching staff were “obviously very disappointed for Glenn,” who was practicing at a high level and looking forward to his second year as a starter.

But Fangio indicated there will be no looking back; they’ll only look ahead.

“I feel bad for us,” he said, “but we’ll move on and get the rest of the guys ready.”

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