The 49ers will play the Broncos without two longtime starters, Patrick Willis and Mike Iupati, both of whom have been ruled out for Sunday’s game.
Rookie Chris Borland will start in Willis’ place at linebacker and Joe Looney will replace Iupati at left guard.
Willis’ absence is not a surprise. He has been dealing with a toe injury this week and has not practiced. Iupati suffered a concussion in the third quarter Monday against the St. Louis Rams and still was experiencing symptoms late in the week. Coach Jim Harbaugh said there weren’t enough days before the game for Iupati to pass the league-mandated concussion protocol.
Looney played throughout the preseason at right guard in place of Alex Boone, who was holding out for a new contract. Looney started the Week 1 game against Dallas before Boone returned for Week 2. Looney has not started any games at left guard but filled in for Iupati after he left the Rams game.
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Willis said he was dealing with a strained muscle in his big toe. The 49ers have a bye after Sunday’s game in Denver, and Willis said he hopes to be back for the Nov. 2 game against the Rams.
Rookie safety Jimmie Ward (quadriceps) did not practice this week and is not expected to play Sunday. He is listed as questionable. Another defensive back, Chris Culliver, injured his hamstring this week and did not practice Friday. He already was on the injury report with a shoulder issue and was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday.
Some good injury news for the 49ers: Tackle Anthony Davis practiced all week and could start at right tackle against the Broncos. He will face their top pass rusher, Von Miller, most of the evening if he plays.
Despite the long list of injuries and the short week of preparation, Harbaugh said his players showed plenty of energy during practice this week.
“And I feel like the preparation’s been good, the practice has been good,” he said. “And the focus is there and a lot of that has to do with the Broncos. Such a good team. That tends to hone your focus as well.”
Et cetera The 49ers signed veteran coverage specialist Ray Ventrone and cut quarterback Josh Johnson. The team had made the reverse moves early in the week. Essentially, the 49ers want to have Johnson during the week for practice purposes but Ventrone on game days.
▪ The NFL fined wide receiver Michael Crabtree $5,512 for throwing a ball into the stands after a touchdown Monday. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was not fined for wearing Beats by Dre headphones, which are not a league sponsor, after the game; Kaepernick covered the logo with athletic tape.
▪ Tight end Vernon Davis (back) said he feels far better than he did last week. “Last week was tough. It was challenging for me,” he said. The result was a rough outing against the Rams that included two drops, a false-start penalty and miscommunication in the end zone that turned a sure touchdown into an incompletion.
▪ Out: G Mike Iupati (concussion), LB Patrick Willis (toe)
▪ Questionable: CB Tramaine Brock (toe), CB Chris Culliver (shoulder), T Anthony Davis (knee, ankle), S Jimmie Ward (quadricep)
▪ Probable: B Chris Cook (quadricep), CB Perrish Cox (quadricep), TE Vernon Davis (back), DE Tony Jerod-Eddie (shoulder), WR Stevie Johnson (hip), DE Justin Smith (not injury related), DT Ian Williams (ankle, shoulder)
▪ Out: RB Montee Ball (groin)
▪ Probable: CB Omar Bolden (groin), S David Bruton (ankle), CB Chris Harris (knee), K Brandon McManus (right groin), LB Corey Nelson (hamstring), RB Juwan Thompson (knee)
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.