SANTA CLARA – A 49ers team that has gone through half the season with little production from the No. 2 wide receiver and little pop from the return game will face a former teammate who's been making an impact in both areas.
Ted Ginn has 21 catches for 367 yards for Carolina through eight games and is averaging 17.5 yards per reception. That's better than any 49ers wide receiver other than Anquan Boldin, and it eclipses Ginn's numbers last season in San Francisco when he had just two catches for 1 yard.
The difference? The Panthers were forced to use Ginn as a receiver early this season, and he surprised them with the results.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said this week that injuries to two receivers in training camp thrust Ginn up the depth chart. Before that, the Carolina coaches figured they would use him the way the 49ers did – mostly as a return man and occasionally as a receiver whose only role would be to use his speed to run straight down the field.
But the Panthers were impressed by Ginn's abilities on pass patterns, not just the deep ones, and he has been on the field for roughly half the team's offensive plays. By contrast, Ginn played 6 percent of the 49ers' offensive snaps last season.
"You open your eyes and are saying, 'Wow,' " Rivera said. "You're kind of saying, 'Where has all this been during his career?' "
The 49ers have noticed as well.
"As we all know, he's extremely fast, but he's caught the ball well," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "He's caught the ball inside the numbers, outside the numbers. He's made some big plays for those guys."
Ginn has the second-most receiving yards of the Panthers' wideouts, behind starting receiver Steve Smith.
Ginn was a free agent in 2012, visited several teams he hoped would use him more as a receiver, then ended up signing a one-year deal on a 49ers team that also had Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams and A.J. Jenkins competing for playing time at the position.
Asked why he didn't have a bigger role in San Francisco, Ginn said on a conference call: "I was just being a team player, a role guy. I was just filling my role. That's all I can really say. I don't know why or what or what was said or whatever. I just went out and played football, and I did what the people asked me to do."
Tough decisions – Coach Jim Harbaugh declined to say how much recently added players like Aldon Smith, Mario Manningham and Eric Wright are likely to play Sunday, keeping the Panthers guessing.
He did acknowledge, however, that picking seven inactive players – as every team must do each week – will be tough, especially since only one member of the 53-man roster, rookie receiver Quinton Patton (foot), is injured and definitely will not play.
"Talked to the team about that," Harbaugh said. "It's going to be six inactive players that have been playing, have been contributing, that are healthy or are ready to go that are darn good football players. We just asked them to make an argument, state (their) case this week, and we'll go to the game with the best 46 (players)."
Injuries – The 49ers listed three players as questionable for Sunday: linebacker Ahmad Brooks (stinger) and defensive ends Ray McDonald (biceps) and Justin Smith (shoulder). All three practiced throughout the week and are expected to play.
Read Matthew Barrows' blogs at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320.