Bronson back, but Webster likely out
January 03, 2003
Rookie Rumph will step in if ailing cornerback can't play
By MATT MAIOCCO
SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers are getting back one valued member of their defensive backfield but apparently are going to be without another for their NFC playoff game this weekend.
Free safety Zack Bronson returns after missing the final 11 games of the regular season with a broken left foot, but it appears that cornerback Jason Webster will not be able to play against the New York Giants Sunday at Candlestick Park.
Webster sustained a left ankle sprain in the third quarter of Monday's season finale against the St. Louis Rams. He was hobbling on crutches Thursday and will not practice this week.
Webster said he probably will not even try to run until Sunday morning prior to the game.
Asked if his availability is going to be a mystery to him until Sunday, Webster replied, "That's the way it's looking right now."
That leaves the right cornerback position in the hands of first-round draft pick Mike Rumph, whose only previous start was Dec.15 against the Green Bay Packers. Rumph has experienced the two best games of his first season in the last two weeks, against Arizona and St. Louis.
"The last few weeks I think I've been improving and I know this week in practice I've been going at it like it's a game out there," Rumph said.
"This is a game where my role is important, just like every other week. But this is the playoffs and I have to step in there and make something happen."
The 49ers re-signed return specialist Vinny Sutherland, who handled the team's punt- and kickoff-return chores in 2001 before getting released prior to the start of this season.
After Jimmy Williams sustained a season-ending knee injury, the 49ers have gotten no production from their return units. Cedrick Wilson, the main return man, is averaging 7.4 yards on punt returns and 19.5 on kickoffs.
"I think he looks a little better," 49ers special-teams coach Bruce DeHaven said of Sutherland. "It looks like he's lost some weight and, if anything, is maybe a little bit quicker."
DeHaven said Sutherland will be back deep on kickoffs but did not announce who would return punts.
"It will be awfully exciting, but it's not like I haven't been out there before," Sutherland said. "If you can't get up for something like this, you probably don't belong playing."
WINBORN ON IR
First, the 49ers waited nearly three months before recommending surgery for linebacker Jamie Winborn, who sustained a torn medial-collateral ligament in his left knee on Sept.22.
On Thursday, three weeks after undergoing surgery, the team decided to place him on injured reserve, officially ending his season.
"The doctors (initially) felt that it was in his best interest to rehab and rehab, and try to get back on the field without injury, based on their experience with that type of injury," 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said. "After several weeks of real slow recovery, they felt that if there was going to be any chance of him playing in the playoffs that they would do the surgery and see if it would be in time for the playoffs. That's what they did. It was successful. It's just not enough time for him to let that calm down."
Although new punter Bill LaFleur's gross- and net-punting average are far lower than those posted by Jason Baker before he was waived in late November, DeHaven said he believes the 49ers' punt situation has improved significantly.
"He is kicking so much better than what our situation was before he arrived that I haven't even given it any thought," DeHaven said.
LaFleur is averaging 36.6 yards a punt, with a net average of 30.8 on 22 punts. Baker averaged 40.2 yards (32.0 net) on 42 punts.
Running back Kevan Barlow (left knee) returned to practice, while right guard Ron Stone (left ankle) sat out another day. Stone is expected to play at something less than 100 percent.
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