October 17, 2014

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) San Francisco linebacker Dan Skuta described rookie linebacker Chris Borland's playing style in one word: ''nifty.''

''You know, the way he slides around blocks,'' Skuta said. ''He sidesteps and weaves his way around but he can also be physical when the need arises. He's been a good player.''

Borland - who spent part of his Wisconsin career trying to tackle fellow 49ers rookie Carlos Hyde, who played at Ohio State - found himself replacing All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, who suffered a strained toe Monday night in a win over the St. Louis Rams and will be unavailable against the Denver Broncos on Sunday night.

''He's shown he can play,'' 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. ''He has four tackles on special teams. Credit the assistant coaches for having these young players ready. They keep putting them in a position to play.''

Borland said he was prepared for the opportunity for his first extensive playing time. His first play was the final play of the first half, when Rams quarterback Austin Davis took a knee.

''I wasn't nervous or anything at first,'' Borland said. ''I'm always thinking about playing special teams anyway, so it was just a shift of focus. Guys rallied around me, really helped me out in the second half.''

Willis, wearing a boot on his left foot, said he's confident Borland would fill his spot admirably.

''He has a knack for football and he understands football,'' Willis said. ''He's been preparing all week with Mike (Wilhoite). He's going to go out and do a good job.''

Borland, who is listed at 5-foot-11, 248 pounds, said his style of play was born out of necessity.

''I'm not the biggest guy, so I have to have a change up and that may be it,'' he said about Skuta's reference. ''Playing behind Justin (Smith) or Ray (McDonald) or Ian (Williams), you're in pretty easy shape. You're not getting double teams on you fast or anything.''

Skuta admires Borland's trait of listening to Wilhoite, Willis and the injured NaVorro Bowman.

''He's always talking about things, always listening,'' Skuta said. ''I didn't know a lot about him when he first came in but he's proven he belongs and can play.''

Willis expects to return to the field ("Yes, I do,'' he said) following next week's bye, which means he will have a full 20 days between games.

''No one wants to go through an injury but in the big picture I will be all right,'' he said. ''I'm grateful it's not worse than it is. I don't want to jinx it and will just take it one day at a time and I'm feeling better every day.''

Tight end Vernon Davis, bothered by a back problem, also feels better than he did Monday night when he played after missing two of the previous three contests.

''I had to fight through a lot of stuff,'' Davis said. ''Last week was tough. Frank Gore kept trying to get me to play. He said `I'll make you play,' so I toughed it out.''

NOTES: LG Mike Iupati is also out for Sunday's game. Harbaugh said there are not enough days in the concussion protocol for Iupati. . S Jimmie Ward (quadriceps) is listed as questionable, though his chances to play are slim and none. . CBs Chris Culliver (hamstring, shoulder) and Tramaine Brock (toe) and RT Anthony Davis (knee, ankle) are also questionable, with a better chance of playing. TE Davis, DEs Smith and Tony Jerod-Eddie, DT Williams, CBs Chris Cook and Perrish Cox and WR Stevie Johnson are all probable. . The 49ers resigned S Bubba Ventrone and released QB Josh Johnson. . WR Michael Crabtree was fined $5,512 for throwing the ball into the stands after scoring a touchdown on Monday night.

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