The 49ers’ unseen injured list now includes All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis and highly-touted cornerback Chris Culliver.
Willis suffered a fracture in his right hand at Wednesday’s practice and will have it examined later today.
Culliver crumpled to the ground on a punt coverage play holding his left knee, then spent several minutes on the ground in pain and tears. He was consoled by head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke before being carted off.
“Cully” was part of the talented 2011 draft class, filling the team’s nickel back role last year. This season, Culliver was competing for a larger role amid an influx of talent including veteran Nnamdi Asomugha, seventh-rounder Marcus Cooper, and undrafted rookies Darryl Morris and Lowell Rose.
For Willis, this is the third time he’s broken his hand in a six-year career in which he’s made the Pro Bowl each season. He played hurt in 2007 and 2010 — just like he did at Ole Miss in 2005.
Fans can breathe a sigh of relief though, as Willis – reputedly the best linebacker in the NFL – is expected to be ready for San Francisco’s Week 1 match up against the Packers.
In the meantime, the 49ers will get a closer look at primary backup Michael Wilhoite who takes his spot with the first unit alongside fellow All-Pro NaVorro Bowman. Sixth-rounder Nick Moody, the untested Nate Stupar, and recently signed undraftee Travis Johnson will each get more reps at inside linebacker.
Wilhoite, 26, enters his third NFL season with seven tackles – all recorded last year on special teams – notching four more in the playoffs.
He starred at Division II Washburn before playing in a handful of UFL games for the Omaha Nighthawks in 2011 prior to signing with the 49ers.
If Culliver is out for an extended period of time, the team may consider bringing back free agent Eric Wright, whose trade from Tampa Bay was voided last month after a failed physical.
The 49ers are likely to give an update regarding Culliver’s injury after Thursday’s practice.