Willis’ big toe deals Niners big blow

The San Francisco 49ers suffered their biggest loss of the season on a Tuesday, not a Sunday, as LB Patrick Willis will undergo surgery on his ailing left toe, effectively ending his season.

Fox Sports 1’s Mike Garafolo reported the story this morning after following up on a report by colleague Jay Glazer which stated that Willis’ injury could force him to miss “significant time.”

It now appears that that significant amount of time will be the rest of the 2014 season, as CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco confirmed San Francisco will place Willis on the injured-reserve list.

The loss of the seven-time Pro Bowler comes at a crushing time as the 49ers appeared on the verge of righting their turbulent season, with the reinstatement of OLB Aldon Smith” href=”http://sfbay.ca/home/tag/aldon-smith/”>Aldon Smith and impending return of LB NaVorro Bowman.

But it now appears San Francisco’s dynamic linebacker duo won’t see time together on the field until 2015.

Willis initially suffered what was reported to be a strained muscle in his left big toe while playing on the artificial surface of the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis October 13.

Willis appeared on the verge of recovery when he returned in limited capacity to the practice field two weeks ago, but remained out of action following the loss to St. Louis November 2.

Rookie linebacker Chris Borland has filled in for Willis during his absence, and has impressed in the process. The rookie has notched 35 tackles over the last two games, as well as securing the game winning fumble in Sunday’s overtime win against New Orleans.

Borland has also improved his coverage skills, earning a respectable +1.7 grade according to Pro Football Focus while defending the pass.

It will be almost impossible to fill the void left by one of the game’s premiere linebackers, though Borland’s continued ascension will continue to be key to the 49ers success, starting opposite of Michael Wilhoite.

It will be interesting to see who head coach Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh sticks with if Bowman returns this season, as Borland is certainly making a strong case for himself.

It also appears, though, that Bowman may not be as close to a return as previously assumed, as ESPN’s Ed Werder indicated Tuesday morning that the linebacker is experiencing pain in his surgically repaired knee.

Harbaugh also confirmed on KNBR that Bowman’s doctor has suggested another MRI on his knee, which, based on results, may either speed or slow Bowman’s return to practice this week. Bowman’s rehab has seemed promising so far, despite Werder’s report of knee pain.

In light of all the questions regarding the linebacker position, the 49ers have re-signed Stanford product Shayne Skov to the practice squad, preparing for a worst-case scenario in which neither Bowman and Willis are able to return this season.


Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the San Francisco 49ers.