49ers' backup RB job up for grabs

Updated: August 18, 2010, 6:16 PM ET
Associated Press

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Brian Westbrook has a history of success as an NFL running back. Rookie Anthony Dixon's NFL experience consists of one exhibition game. As far as San Francisco offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye is concerned, they are both on even ground.

Raye rallied support around Dixon a day after Westbrook made his training camp debut with the 49ers as a possible backup to Frank Gore.

Raye said Wednesday it's not a sure thing that Westbrook will step right into the spot vacated by the sudden retirement of Glen Coffee. Dixon impressed the coaches in the 49ers' 37-17 exhibition victory over the Indianapolis Colts, rushing for 100 yards with a touchdown.

"I like the way he ran with the football and his physicality," Raye said. "We had some concerns about his ability to play without the ball. He demonstrated otherwise. His performance in his first opportunity, in his first year, was pretty good."

Raye said Dixon will be given the opportunity to make an earlier appearance when the 49ers host the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night.

"He's put himself in position to warrant more snaps and earlier snaps against better competition," Raye said. "Stats are not functional in an exhibition game. We're looking to see how clear the picture is, let him use his athleticism and how he plays within the framework of the offense."

Westbrook participated in his second day of practice with his new team, seeing action in a limited number of plays as he works to incorporate himself into the team's playbook.

"There is a lot of versatility back there," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said of the running backs. "Westbrook is a nice add to the mix. I'm excited to see what he could do."

Raye was a little more sedate about his new running back.

"I know his reputation but I don't know him as a player," Raye said. "We need to indoctrinate him into they way we want him to do things. He's a smart guy. I'm sure he'll pick things up. But Anthony Dixon is very much in the running as the guy who goes in for Gore."

Raye also said there was a chance Westbrook could see some action against the Vikings this week.

"I don't want to put him out there if he's not sure what he's doing," Raye said. "We can afford to be patient and yet there's a chance he could get some work if the medical staff thinks it's prudent."

Smith is looking forward to the day he'll have his entire offensive weaponry at his disposal. He's missing wide receiver Michael Crabtree (neck), center Eric Heitmann (broken leg) and tight end Vernon Davis (knee).

"It's very important we all play together, Smith said. "We have to get the work in, continue to makes strides and get better. Otherwise you're just hoping it shows up on game day."

David Bass assumed the center's role as Heitmann will likely miss up to eight weeks.

"I feel good with him," Smith said. "He's been working very hard to get ready. It's good for him to go up against our defensive line. He's stepped right up."

Notes

The 49ers released WR Brandon Jones and waived injured T Chris Patrick (shoulder). Jones appeared in eight games last season. Patrick appeared in three . . . QB Nathan Davis is also likely to see action earlier Sunday. "He needs to play against guys who have played in the NFL," Raye said. "We can see how his development is going." ... Smith was disappointed in his performance against the Colts. "We didn't finish plays, throws or catches," he said. "I felt good but that didn't equate to anything." ... OT hopeful Matt Kopa played with Vikings' RB Toby Gerhart the past four years at Stanford.


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