SANTA CLARA — Jim Harbaugh is undecided whether he will allow himself a day off during San Francisco's bye week. Even with a whirlwind stretch of travel finally over.
It all will depend on how prepared the 49ers coach feels a few days from now for the Carolina Panthers, who come to town for a Nov. 10 game at Candlestick Park.
The way his team is rolling right now, who could blame Harbaugh for wanting to keep on working?
After a road game at Tennessee followed by a weeklong stay in London before beating the winless Jaguars on Sunday, Harbaugh is happy to be back on familiar ground, even citing the joy of looking out at the green practice fields at the training facility.
“One of the other bonuses of a long stay away, you get nine days away, is just how fresh your facility feels when you get back and the practice fields, the food, the comfort of your own bed, your kids,” Harbaugh said as he began his Tuesday news conference. “But, the facility we've been in, the meeting rooms, offices that the fellas have been in for the last six to nine months now feel, 'wow, it's great to be back.' This is new, it's not stale bread anymore. It's another bonus. So, it gives you life and enthusiasm, which is a good thing.”
The 49ers (6-2) are riding a five-game winning streak as they welcome what will be a much-needed break for most players this week. Though Harbaugh saw several regulars on site Tuesday, including quarterback Colin Kaepernick and defensive tackle Ray McDonald and a couple of players rehabilitating from injuries.
Still right in the race for a third straight NFC West crown, the 49ers are eager to keep a good thing going. They have scored 30 or more points in five straight games, and have the NFL's top-ranked running game behind Frank Gore.
Harbaugh praised the offense, defense and special teams.
“A lot of positives,” he said. “Really a dramatic improvement in terms of playing disciplined, sound technique football. So, it's a great job by the fellas in that regard. Execution's been good, getting better and you keep seeing that we can, that there's even, you play good football and there's room for improvement, ways that we can improve. So, that is the one of the most encouraging things is that we're playing good and we can get better.”
San Francisco hardly looks like the team that lost back-to-back games in Weeks 2 and 3 to Seattle and Indianapolis — outscored 56-10.
“No question I felt like we were a good team then, but we really focused in and just understanding what we have to do in order to keep on keeping ourselves in the right position and in the right place,” linebacker Patrick Willis said.
Harbaugh is holding a pair of opportunity practices this week, primarily for the young players though many veterans have stuck around like in previous years.
He remains hopeful that Michael Crabtree, the team's top wide receiver last season, will return from Achilles tendon surgery sometime next month.
“That's doable,” Harbaugh said. “I'm not going to make any proclamations or profound statements, but he's right on track for, at some point here, weeks.”
In addition, Mario Manningham could return soon.
Manningham made 42 receptions for 449 yards and one touchdown in 12 games and 10 starts last season before injuring his left knee in a loss at Seattle Dec. 23. He underwent reconstructive surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate and posterior cruciate ligaments.
He has been practicing for two weeks and the Niners must decide by next Tuesday whether to add him to the 53-man roster from the physically unable to perform list.
Harbaugh hasn't allowed himself to think about how much more his offense might do with the additions of Crabtree and Manningham. He wants to get running back LaMichael James back into the mix first.
“We've really been focused on what we have this week. Those being the best available players, and they're all doing a real fine job and how we could use them differently,” Harbaugh said. “Get LaMichael in the mix. We want to get that going. He's too good of a player not to be playing.”
Notes: As Harbaugh hinted would happen, rookie DT Tank Carradine was activated from the reserve/non-football injury list Tuesday and could play against the Panthers. San Francisco cleared roster room by waiving LB Jermaine Cunningham. Carradine, a second-round draft pick out of Florida State, has been working back from a torn ACL and resumed practice Oct. 15.