SANTA CLARA Any 49ers fan dreaming of a triumphant return by Terrell Owens or perhaps a playoff run with Randy Moss will be disappointed.
After the release of Braylon Edwards, coach Jim Harbaugh on Wednesday said the 49ers likely will fill their open roster spot at wide receiver not with a big-name outsider but with a lesser-known player from the practice squad. The leading candidate, in fact, has one of the most humble backgrounds of any player in the league.
Joe Hastings, all 6-foot, 185 pounds of him, played at Washburn University and went undrafted in April. Hastings caught 87 passes for 1,546 yards for the Ichabods last season, but he was an afterthought when the 49ers began signing undrafted players in the summer.
Harbaugh, stingy with information as always, wouldn't say whether Hastings will get the job. But fellow practice-squad receiver John Matthews told reporters the plan is to elevate Hastings later in the week. The 49ers have until Saturday to make the move.
"I think Joe's the guy who's the next man up," Matthews said.
Promoting Hastings would keep with a Harbaugh philosophy in which hard work and team unity are paramount.
Hastings started gaining attention in the summer when, as a member of the 49ers' second- and third-team offense, he would routinely catch passes against the first-string defense.
When the 49ers began signing undrafted receivers in late July, they figured Dontavia Bogan of South Florida or Chris Hogan of Monmouth would have the best shot of landing on the practice squad. But both got hurt, allowing Hastings to have a bigger role.
Harbaugh also seems to have a higher regard for the practice squad than other NFL coaches.
Most of the players on the eight-man squad have been with the team all season, and they say they feel as if they're part of the active roster. Practice-squad players attend all meetings, even the ones the night before games, and they travel for road games, something that hasn't been done by the 49ers in previous seasons.
"They don't necessarily view the practice squad as a lesser entity but more of an extension of the team," said Matthews, who played for Harbaugh at the University of San Diego. "And when guys do go down (with injuries), I think they want to bring guys up (from the practice squad) as opposed to going elsewhere."
Said rookie tight end Konrad Reuland, who played for Harbaugh at Stanford: "I almost have to pinch myself sometimes to remind myself I'm not on the 53-man roster. We do everything except play in the games. They do everything they can to make sure we feel like we're part of the team. It's really cool."
That means Hastings has had plenty of experience with the 49ers' quarterbacks, including Alex Smith. Hastings helps Smith warm up before games so that the receivers on the active roster don't wear out their legs before kickoff.
"I feel good about Joe," Smith said. "I think that if that's the way the direction ends up going, I feel good about him stepping up and that he'll be ready."
The 49ers may have to make another roster move at tight end next week.
Tight end Delanie Walker suffered a broken jaw in Saturday's win over Seattle, and teammates said Wednesday that his jaw has been wired shut and that he's on a liquid diet.
Harbaugh said it would take a week to know if Walker can return during the 49ers' playoff run. If he can't, Walker likely will be placed on injured reserve and another tight end, perhaps Reuland, will be signed.
"I've been working at everything, especially my blocking and getting stronger," Reuland said. "So I'm fully confident in my ability if my number does get called."