Patrick Willis will miss the remainder of the 2014 NFL season to undergo surgery on a strained left big toe, the San Francisco 49ers announced Tuesday. With NaVorro Bowman also out, the 49ers will continue to start Michael Wilhoite and rookie Chris Borland at inside linebacker.
Willis has missed the 49ers' last three games after injuring his toe against the St. Louis Rams last month. Compounding the news are reports that Bowman is still dealing with knee pain as he tries to recover from a torn ACL he suffered last season. Willis goes to injured reserve having accumulated 34 tackles and an interception this season.
The good news for the 49ers is that Borland and Wilhoite have been capable replacements, the rookie especially. Drafted in the third round out of Wisconsin, Borland stepped into the starting lineup in Week 9, and recorded 18 tackles during a debut against the Rams and 17 tackles in an overtime win against the New Orleans Saints.
The 49ers' defense should also benefit from the return of Aldon Smith. The pass rusher is eligible to play this weekend against the New York Giants after serving a nine-game suspension for violationing the NFL's personal conduct and substance abuse policies.
To compensate for Willis' move to injured reserve, the 49ers signed running back Alfonso Smith to a one-year contract.