SANTA CLARA -- Patrick Willis is on track to miss his third practice of the week, which likely leaves his starting spot -- and the job of covering Saints tight end Jimmy Graham -- to rookie Chris Borland.
At 6-7 and with 35-inch arms, Graham is a mismatch against any linebacker. But his length is even more stark in contrast to Borland, who stands 5-11 and has stubby -- for an NFL player, at least -- 29-inch arms. The 49ers don’t have a lot of options when it comes to covering the tall tight end.
“And all of our defensive backs are in that same range,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio noted this week. “He’s going to have that height advantage almost over everybody that will line up on him, just like he does each and every week in the NFL for the most part. It’s a tough matchup and makes it tougher that he’s a part of a very balanced offense so it’s hard to give special attention to one guy all the time. We just have to go out and play.”
Graham’s 64.8 receiving yards a game ranks second among tight ends behind New England’s Rob Gronkowski. In a 2011 season playoff game, Graham caught five passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers. But he’s been quiet in the two meetings since -- 33 yards in 2012 and 41 yards last season.
Borland, meanwhile, is coming off a big game against the Rams as far as tackles. But he also had a prominent mistake in coverage that led to St. Louis’ only touchdown.
Still, teammates have raved about how he’s played in practice and noted that he has made a number of interceptions in those sessions, including when he’s covering tight ends. Said the always-frank Fangio when that was brought to his attention: “They’ve come against scout team quarterbacks, too.”
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.