49ers' Edwards expected back after break

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers return from a six-day vacation today to find that their lead in the NFC West has grown and their injury list has shrunk.

Chief among those expected back at today's practice is wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who tore the meniscus in his right knee on the 49ers' first offensive drive against the Cowboys in Week 2.

Jim Harbaugh on Monday said he was encouraged about Edwards after watching the receiver run routes last week. The 49ers signed Edwards to a one-year deal in August during a time when the team's other top-tier wideout, Michael Crabtree, still was recovering from a fractured foot.

Crabtree is back, but the team lost another receiver, Joshua Morgan, for the season after he broke a bone in his leg late in a Week 5 win over the Buccaneers. The 49ers had just four healthy receivers for their win over the Lions. Edwards, who started the first two games of the season, is expected to return to the starting lineup opposite Crabtree when he's healthy.

Under the new collective bargaining agreement, players are required to have four days off during their bye week. Harbaugh increased that to six days after the 49ers beat both the Buccaneers and the Lions, earning an additional day of rest with each victory.

While they were away, all three of their division opponents lost. That gives the 49ers (5-1) a three-game lead over the Seahawks (2-3). They also are alone in second place in the NFC behind the Packers (7-0). They have a half game lead on both the Saints (5-2) and Lions (5-2).

With his team returning to work today (Tuesday is usually the team's day off), Harbaugh said the 49ers would have a bonus practice in which begin preparing for Cleveland.

He said he was "hopeful" that the team's other injured players, including fullback Moran Norris, would return along with Edwards.

Norris suffered a fibula injury in Week 2 against the Cowboys, and he had been in an orthopedic boot until last week. Norris' replacement, rookie Bruce Miller, played well in recent weeks as the 49ers' running game found its footing.

Harbaugh said he did not have a policy that protects players from losing their starting roles because of injury. Instead, he said that moving forward the starting fullback job would be determined by which player, Miller or Norris, performs better in practice and in games.

"He's done a great job," Harbaugh said of Miller. "We're really pleased with what Bruce has done, and he's improved every week, too, which is really good.

"As far as when Moran is back and healthy and they're both in there and competing at the same time we'll see who's playing better, who's practicing better, who gives us the better opportunity to dictate who will start."

That also will be the case for the No. 3 cornerback position, a role filled by Tramaine Brock before he broke his hand against the Cowboys. More recently, rookie Chris Culliver has been the team's No.3 cornerback, and he played well in the 49ers' most recent win in Detroit.

Brock Tweeted on Monday that his cast is due to come off Thursday. His agent said last week that Brock is aiming to return this week or next.

Harbaugh also is looking for outside linebacker Parys Haralson to take part in today's practice after he left the Lions game with a hamstring injury.

He said that Haralson has been "doing a great job," a hint perhaps that good-looking rookie Aldon Smith hasn't usurped Haralson's starting spot.

"I think he's playing his best football on first and second down," Harbaugh said of Haralson. "... He's someone we're really hopeful is back in the lineup."

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