SANTA CLARA — The San Francisco 49ers might be getting closer to adding a couple of big names back to their injury-depleted defense.
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman's 21-day evaluation window is set to begin Tuesday. That means he could start practicing again this week as the Niners determine whether he will be able to play this season following a devastating left knee injury in last January's NFC championship game that required surgery.
“With NaVorro, we'll see where he falls and how much he can do,” coach Jim Harbaugh said, noting Bowman initially might be limited to walk-throughs or individual drills.
Bowman tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee in the loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle.
On Monday, San Francisco activated nose tackle Glenn Dorsey following his 21-day stretch, putting him in position to play for the first time Sunday at home against Washington if he is deemed ready by the coaches and medical staff.
Dorsey tore his left biceps Aug. 1 and required surgery. He was placed on the injured reserve/designated to return list with the hopes he would be able to come back this season.
San Francisco cleared room on the 53-man roster for Dorsey by placing nose tackle Ian Williams on season-ending IR because of a fractured left fibula suffered at New Orleans on Nov. 9. It's been a rough two seasons for Williams, who was sidelined last year following a Week 2 ankle injury against Seattle that required several procedures. Williams was in a walking boot and using crutches last week.
The 49ers (6-4) withstood a daunting two-week stretch by winning close games at New Orleans and New York, the latest victory coming in a week that San Francisco lost star linebacker Patrick Willis for the season and also rookie cornerback Jimmie Ward. And, now, Williams.
The backups have been stellar, while the regular faces in the secondary have done their part. Cornerback Chris Culliver sprinted up to Harbaugh with his interception game ball Sunday and handed it off to the coach along with a hug.
“He competes like a maniac,” Harbaugh said of Culliver, who missed last season with his own serious knee injury.
Rookie linebacker Chris Borland piled up some more big numbers.
Borland, who has filled in since Willis injured his left big toe at St. Louis on Oct. 13, had two of the five interceptions against Eli Manning in Sunday's 16-10 road win against the Giants. He also added 13 tackles, giving him 48 over the past three games.
“They're young guys stepping up,” running back Frank Gore said. “Coach, every week he challenged the young guys who got the opportunity to play, and they're stepping up to the plate.”
Also Monday, Harbaugh said he spoke to linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who played just 12 snaps Sunday. Brooks played just a few snaps â€” and none in the second half â€” after Aldon Smith entered early in the second quarter to make his season debut following a nine-game suspension.
After the game, Harbaugh said, “We have something we're working through.”
Harbaugh said a day later that he expects Brooks to play against the Redskins. With the emergence of rookie linebackers Borland and Aaron Lynch and with Smith's return, Brooks' playing time could diminish.
“Yes, we've addressed it and had those conversations, onward,” Harbaugh said. “Yeah, I can be specific, I can be very specific. It's something I don't want to share with you or share publicly.”