COMMENTARY | Already without outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who is beginning treatment for a substance-abuse problem this week, the San Francisco 49ers may be without another All-Pro defensive player.
After suffering a groin injury in the third quarter against the Indianapolis Colts, inside linebacker Patrick Willis may miss Thursday night's game against the St. Louis Rams. Willis underwent evaluations on Monday and had a MRI examination Monday and his status will depend on how well his muscle strain responds to treatment he receives over the next few days.
Facing a short week, the likelihood of Willis' availability is diminished. Willis, a six-time All-Pro linebacker, is a keystone of the 49ers defense and has only missed four games over his six-year career. If he misses the upcoming game, the 49ers will turn to Michael Wilhoite.
Wilhoite, an undrafted free agent out of Washburn, has been with the 49ers since 2011. In eight career games, he has nine total tackles. A solid performer this preseason, he was kept on the 53-man roster as the team's primary backup inside linebacker behind Willis and NoVorro Bowman. Similar to how Larry Grant filled in for Willis in the 49ers' final games of the 2011-12 season, Wilhoite will be a manageable short-term replacement for the perennial Pro Bowler.
As for their matchup against the Rams, St. Louis is dealing with their own issues at running back, as Daryl Richardson did not record a carry or reception against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. Re-injuring his foot after just one play, he was primarily replaced by Isaiah Pead, who finished with six carries for 20 yards and seven receptions for 43 yards. Richardson does expect to play against the 49ers.
While Willis says he is "hopeful" that he will play on Thursday, he will likely not play in a crucial Week 4 game against the Rams.
Austin Chang is a San Francisco Bay Area-based sports writer covering the San Francisco 49ers for the Yahoo Contributor Network. He is the Associate Editor of Sports Out West and works for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Follow this contributor on Twitter @_austinchang.
- American Football
- Sports & Recreation
- Patrick Willis
- San Francisco 49ers
- Indianapolis Colts