First off, a reminder that there will be no NFC South chat this week. Now, let’s move onto a quick run through the headlines from around the division.
The injury news was mixed out of Thursday’s practice. Receiver Julio Jones (ankle) returned on a limited basis after sitting out Wednesday’s practice. But the news wasn’t as good on linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (ankle). Weatherspoon, who returned to practice Wednesday after missing the past three games, sat out Thursday’s practice and the team said Weatherspoon also had an undisclosed illness. All indications are that Weatherspoon’s ankle has been healing well. If he can shake the illness quickly, I think there’s a good chance he’ll make his return Sunday against Tampa Bay.
Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith sarcastically referred to Monday night’s game against Philadelphia as a “battle of the bads." Can’t argue with him on that. The Panthers and Eagles both are struggling mightily. I’m trying to figure out which team is more dysfunctional. I think we’ll find out an answer Monday night.
Joseph Person has a fine story on Brenda Anderson. She’s the mother of linebacker James Anderson. Brenda Anderson had brain surgery in September and is making a strong recovery.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
As the 49ers and Saints get ready to play Sunday, let’s keep in mind that Gregg Williams’ infamous speech came on the eve of last season’s playoff game against the 49ers and several San Francisco players were mentioned in unflattering ways. The 49ers aren’t saying much about Williams’ speech -- at least not publicly. But, if you believe that San Francisco won’t be using that episode as motivation, you don’t know how things work in the NFL. Coaches and players are always looking for motivation.
If injured right tackles Zach Strief and Charles Brown aren’t ready to play Sunday, the Saints say they’re comfortable with going with Bryce Harris as the starter. He stepped in during the last game and did a decent job. But that was against Oakland and San Francisco’s pass rush is a lot better than the Raiders’.
Although San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith has been medically cleared to play, Ed Werder reports that Colin Kaepernick will get the start against the Saints. After watching Kaepernick’s strong performance in his first NFL start against the Bears on Monday night, I don’t think this is particularly good news for the Saints.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The local television blackout in the Tampa Bay area won’t be lifted for Sunday’s game with Atlanta. The Bucs came up short of the 85 percent threshold of selling general-admission seats at Thursday’s deadline. The Bucs are on a four-game winning streak and very much in the playoff picture and the Falcons have the NFC’s best record. I’d like to say it’s surprising that not enough tickets were sold to lift the blackout, but I can’t honestly say I’m surprised. This just shows that even when the Bucs are playing well, other issues (the economy, the transient nature of the local population, etc.) make Tampa Bay a very difficult market.
Wide receiver Arrelious Benn was placed on injured reserve Thursday. The Bucs may miss Benn more as a kick than as a receiver because Tiquan Underwood gives them some depth behind starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Rookie running back Michael Smith could be a candidate to take Benn’s place in the return game.