Clear some space for Perrish Cox in the whirpool next week. The 49ers defensive back’s responsibilities will expand Sunday with two rookies likely out with injuries.
The first is nickel cornerback Jimmie Ward. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Ward would miss Sunday’s game with a foot injury, which means Cox, a starter at cornerback, will move inside to the nickel position when the Giants use three or more wide receivers. New York has used those formations three-quarters of the time this season.
Return man Bruce Ellington also likely is out after missing the last two practices with a sprained ankle. Cox also is the team’s backup punt returner.
Fangio said he wasn’t worried about overextending Cox, who was cut by the 49ers a year ago but who has become one of their most reliable players.
“I remember calling him ... prior to the start of camp and talking to him and telling him what he needed to do to make this team, because at that point there was no guarantee he was going to make this team,” Fangio said Thursday. “And I figured I’d have to call him in in another couple weeks to remind him because he might slack off, but I never did. Never did have to.”
Another defensive back, Tramaine Brock, is expected to miss his seventh game, this time with a hamstring strain. Rookie Dontae Johnson is likely to enter the game in passing situations. Cornerback Leon McFadden also should be in uniform Sunday.
Smith “rusty” – Fangio’s assessment of outside linebacker Aldon Smith after one practice and two walk-through sessions: “A little rusty.”
“I’ve heard people say he’s in a better situation than he was last year,” Fangio said. “I don’t really see it that way because last year he played in three regular-season games and then was gone for five weeks. (This year) he hadn’t played in any regular-season games and missed the first nine games. So it’s been a long time since he’s had action.”
Fangio said he hasn’t told Smith or his other outside linebackers how much Smith will play against the Giants because he hasn’t made up his mind. Smith played just 12 snaps in his first game after sitting out six weeks last year.
As was the case Sunday against the Saints, the 49ers could be without Dan Skuta (ankle), who had been the team’s starter at right outside linebacker the first eight weeks. Ahmad Brooks started on the right side in New Orleans and rookie Aaron Lynch started on the left.
Et cetera – Linebacker NaVorro Bowman’s MRI on his surgically repaired left knee showed he still is on track in his recovery, but no time line has been set for his return.
▪ Fangio said he thought Glenn Dorsey, who is coming back from a torn biceps, is “close” to playing, but he wouldn’t say if Dorsey will take over at nose tackle from injured Ian Williams (leg). “I don’t know if he’s close enough yet,” Fangio said.
▪ Defensive end Justin Smith sat out his second consecutive practice, but he’s not injured. The rest likely is related to the 64 snaps – a season high for the 35-year-old Smith – in Sunday’s overtime win in New Orleans.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.