On the eve of an ultra-intriguing regular-season game in Foxboro, Mass., we go to the 49ers Mailbag to answer some questions:
Mario Manningham is almost definitely out right? (@jmike4949blvd)
In fact, while I was in the air Saturday on the trip from San Francisco to Boston, the 49ers made it official: Manningham will not play Sunday against the New England Patriots due to his shoulder injury.
What this means is more playing time for No. 2 tight end Delanie Walker, more playing time for fullback Bruce Miller, and more playing time for Randy Moss in two-receiver formations.
The 49ers do not figure to use three-receiver sets too often -- maybe a dozen times through the course of the game. When the 49ers go with that formation, mostly on third downs, you can expect to see rookie A.J. Jenkins get on the field. He played eight snaps last week with Manningham sidelined. He'll probably see at least that much playing time on Sunday, too.
Will LaMichael James see more carries this week? (@bjdpaskeland)
James suited up last week for the first time this season. He is taking over for Kendall Hunter, who sustained a season-ending Achilles injury in the 49ers' 11th game.
Hunter had 72 rushing attempts this season or approximately seven carries per game as Frank Gore's backup. James carried eight times for 30 yards in the 49ers' victory last week over the Miami Dolphins.
That seems about right. So, no, I do not expect James to account for a dramatically higher share of the carries. After all, Gore is still the man who makes the 49ers' offense click.
Do you think Brandon Jacobs will be on playoff roster? (@sachibub10)
Jacobs does not want to play for the 49ers, and the 49ers do not want him around. The 49ers cleared out his locker and gave it to newly re-signed outside linebacker Eric Bakhtiari.
I do not foresee any situation in which the 49ers would want Jacobs in their locker room ever again.
Jacobs will not play for any team this season. There were reports Jacobs would file a grievance against the 49ers. It might eventually come to that, but that has not happened and it would not occur until after the season.
Any grievance Jacobs might file would be all about money. It would have nothing to do with releasing Jacobs so he could sign with another team.
With the three-game suspension to end the regular season, Jacobs stands to lose $167,000 in base salary. In all likelihood, Jacobs' camp will attempt to reach some financial settlement with the 49ers to avoid filing a grievance.
What are the chances that the 49ers play a lot of nickel against the Brady led O? (@RichBonsall)
It's a given. Expect to see a lot of Chris Culliver and very little -- if any -- of nose tackle Isaac Sopoago, the starter in the 49ers' base defense who heads to the sideline when the 49ers go with five defensive backs.
The big question is whether the 49ers will play a lot of their dime defense. That would require fourth cornerback Perrish Cox to enter the game and send inside linebacker Patrick Willis to the sideline.
Cox played more than Willis in the first game of the season against the Green Bay Packers. Cox also played a lot against the Detroit Lions in Week 2, but he has not seen much action since that time.
The 49ers will certainly play some dime. But how much? The key is how they choose to account for tight end Aaron Hernandez. Some teams tag Hernandez as a wide receiver and use defensive backs to cover him. The Patriots also feature such pass-catching targets as Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Danny Woodhead and Julian Edelman.
Bill Belichick and Co. might want to force the hand of 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who must make the decision to keep Willis on the sideline or take his chances with a possible mismatch with Willis covering a smaller, quicker Patriots receiver.
Is Alex Boone the long-term answer at guard? (@JimKralik)
If the club remains healthy, and he's not needed elsewhere, Boone figures to be the 49ers' starting right guard through at least the 2014 season.
Right tackle Anthony Davis is signed through 2014, and he'll remain at right tackle through that time. If Davis does not sign an extension before then, the 49ers would move Boone to right tackle. Left tackle seems out of the question for a while with Joe Staley signed through 2017.
In addition to being the 49ers' starting guard, Boone also serves as the team's top backup at both tackle positions.