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49ers Move on Without Manningham

Posted Dec 26, 2012

When the 49ers offense trots out to the field on Sunday at Candlestick Park, there could be a bit of a new look to the unit. But it’s not by design.

On Wednesday, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh revealed that veteran wideout Mario Manningham will be out for the rest of the season following a knee injury he suffered in the second half of last week’s loss at Seattle.

“He’s not going to be available the rest of the way,” Harbaugh said.

But there are three words that are often uttered in the NFL following an injury: Next man up.

Coupled with the unknown game-time status of tight end Vernon Davis, who suffered a game-ending concussion in the first quarter against the Seahawks, youth could play a big role in Sunday’s offense for the 49ers.

Rookie first-round pick receiver A.J. Jenkins and undrafted rookie tight end Garrett Celek figure to see increased roles against Arizona, while Harbaugh mentioned scout team receivers like Ricardo Lockette and Chad Hall will get a long look in practice this week.

“We have a lot of tight ends, a lot of receivers that can contribute,” Jenkins said. “Unfortunately, guys went down, but we have that pleasure of having a lot of depth. So we’ll keep rolling.”

Tight end Delanie Walker is already known as a do-it-all weapon for offensive coordinator Greg Roman, but even he saw his role increase once Davis went down in Seattle. Walker tied a career high by pulling down his third touchdown of the year, but unfortunately it came near the end of a game that was already well-decided.

Looking ahead to his responsibilities for this weekend, Walker still doesn’t know what the gameplan for the passing attack will be. Given his versatility, Walker is also an option to be split out wide as a wide receiver.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Walker said. “We’ve still got Ted Ginn Jr. that can still play, A.J., so they might fill that spot. I’m confident in those guys going out there. We’ve got to see what’s up with Vernon and go from there.”

While the casual football fan might not be well-aware of Celek’s football abilities yet, Walker has been watching the young player evolve throughout the entire season. After watching him on the field and in the classroom all year and seeing Celek catch two passes for 41 yards in Seattle, Walker is confident the tight end can shoulder a bigger workload, too.

“Garrett’s a baller,” Walker said. “His brother (Garrett) plays tight end (for Philadelphia) and does a great job. It’s just in his blood and he got in there and showed it. I wasn’t surprised at all.”

As far as the practice squad receivers, Hall and Lockette, Walker also likes what he’s seen out of them.

“Those guys show us a lot at practice,” Walker said. “They make great plays on our defense and we have one of the best defenses in the league. “

Hall is listed at 5-foot-8, 187 pounds and provides a shifty option for the 49ers on the perimeter. Lockette, on the other hand, is a big-bodied wideout listed at 6-foot-2, 211 pounds with good speed to stretch the field.

Lockette admitted the difference between Division II Fort Valley State in Georgia and the NFL has been “night and day.” But as he gets ready to wrap up his second season in an NFL locker room, he’s still peppering veterans on both sides of the ball with questions. Lockette specifically said he’s been trying to pick the brains of future Hall of Fame wideout Randy Moss and veteran cornerback Carlos Rogers.

“Once you ask them a question over and over and they see that, OK, he’s trying,” Lockette said. “He’s not just a practice squad guy, he’s trying to get better, he’s trying to understand the game. Then they start offering information, which is a positive thing for me because they believe in me. They’re starting to see that I actually can play and could benefit the team.”

While the Cardinals might have to spend extra time looking at film of some of the lesser-known commodities on the 49ers offense, this week will also mark their first time preparing for Colin Kaepernick as a starter.

The second-year signal-caller is now 4-2 since taking over for Alex Smith under center, maintaining his quiet leadership abilities throughout.

“I think I’m the same quarterback,” Kaepernick said. “I’m trying to improve every week, but the only thing that’s really different is I have some experience under my belt.”

Kaepernick said he isn’t worried about building chemistry with the new contributors on offense, saying time on the practice field has already been a valuable asset this week.

“I think that’s why we aren’t too worried about it because I’ve had a lot of experience with most of those guys,” Kaepernick said.

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