The 49ers have been eliminated from the playoffs and their best candidate for a postseason award may be out of the running, too.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Tuesday “it would be a stretch” if rookie linebacker Chris Borland, who injured his ankle Sunday in Seattle, is able to play again this season. Borland, who has had more tackles than any other NFL player since he became a starter in Week 7 and who was a legitimate candidate for Rookie Defensive Player of the Year, tried to re-enter the game but limped off in frustration.
Fangio typically is reluctant to heap praise on rookies, but he acknowledged the third-round pick’s strong season.
“He still makes some mistakes,” Fangio said. “Still doesn’t react well to certain plays and certain coverages the way he should consistently enough, but I think that will come. I think we got a player who nobody was sure could play at his collegiate level in the pros. And with his work this year, he’s proven that he can, to some degree.”
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The 49ers signed veteran linebacker Desmond Bishop on Tuesday to help make up the shortfall at inside linebacker. Bishop, who played at City College of San Francisco before going to Cal, said he’s been a 49ers fan his whole life and listed former 49ers William Floyd and Lee Woodall among his favorites.
“It’s seriously a dream come true to be back home playing for a team I grew up idolizing,” Bishop said. “It’s really surreal right now.”
Bishop, 30, played six seasons in Green Bay under defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who comes from the same coaching tree as Fangio. Therefore, the scheme and terminology that Bishop had with the Packers is similar to what Fangio uses in San Francisco.
Fangio said the team considered promoting linebacker Shayne Skov from the practice squad but that the front office opted to sign Bishop.
The 49ers have played most of the season without All-Pro starters Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Another inside linebacker, Michael Wilhoite, left Sunday’s game but returned after missing one play.
During Wilhoite’s absence, the 49ers were forced to turn to their seldom-used “penny” defense, which featured Nick Moody as the lone inside linebacker. Moody and Wilhoite likely will start Saturday against San Diego with Bishop as the backup.
Better footing – Safety Jimmie Ward said he expects to be off crutches in another week and ready for the start of the 49ers’ offseason program in the spring.
“More than ready to go,” the team’s confident and animated first-round pick said.
Ward has been out since early November after he aggravated a foot injury suffered in college and which kept him out of the early offseason practices. Ward had a screw inserted in March to help heal the so-called Jones’ fracture in his right foot.
During the 49ers’ Nov. 9 game against the New Orleans Saints, Ward said, that screw bent. The screw was removed during a subsequent surgery “and they ended up putting a bigger screw in there to fill up the room, and that will probably hold up better than the first one,” Ward said.
Ward was ready to play during training camp and looked good at nickel cornerback in the run-up to the regular season. He quickly discovered that offenses typically put their best receiver in the slot position, and he was burned for several touchdowns, including three by Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall in Week 2.
Asked who his toughest opponent was this season, Ward didn’t hesitate.
“Brandon Marshall,” he said. “That’s all I gotta say. I’m going to leave it at his name. That’s all I’m going to say: Brandon Marshall whenever I meet him again. Brandon Marshall.”
Et cetera – Right tackle Anthony Davis was not wearing a blue, no-contact jersey in practice, indicating that he has passed the NFL’s post-concussion protocol. Davis has not played since suffering a concussion Nov. 16.
▪ The 49ers added cornerback Cameron Fuller and tight end Xavier Grimble to their practice squad. Grimble could be elevated to the active roster if Garrett Celek (ankle) can’t play Saturday. Chance Casey, another practice squad cornerback, was signed by the Raiders to their active roster.
▪ Receiver Anquan Boldin is the 49ers’ entry for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year honors. Boldin’s Q81 Foundation benefits underprivileged children in the Bay Area and his hometown of Pahokee, Fla.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.