SANTA CLARA — Injuries are suddenly piling up fast for the 49ers in training camp.
All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis was wearing a black cast around the base of his right hand and wrist and was among more than a dozen players not participating in practice Thursday. Barely 45 minutes into the workout, trainers carted cornerback Chris Culliver off the field with a left knee injury. The NFL Network and ESPN later reported that Culliver suffered a torn ACL and will miss the entire season.
"There've been some nicks. You try to dodge bullets. Sometimes you don't dodge them all," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said.
Willis injured his hand for the third time in his career during one-on-one blocking drills Wednesday. He stood on the sidelines the rest of practice with his wrist and hand heavily wrapped along with fellow All-Pro middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who has been nursing a strained hip.
Harbaugh wouldn't confirm reports that Willis' hand was broken, reverting to his typical line on injuries that the linebacker was "working through something." But he said Willis will be back before the season opener against Green Bay on Sept. 8.
Culliver's injury appeared more serious. He was covering a punt and getting blocked by rookie Marcus Cooper when he went down in pain, holding his left knee and burying his head in his hands.
Harbaugh and players looked on as trainers attended to Culliver, who also had his right shoulder and pectoral area examined late in Wednesday's practice. General manager Trent Baalke consoled Culliver by putting his arm around the cornerback before he was carted off the field. The 49ers said after practice that Culliver was scheduled for an MRI at Stanford.
Fellow cornerback Perrish Cox, who was fielding the punt, said he saw Culliver on the ground as soon as he caught the ball.
"I walked over to see if he was OK," Cox said. "I told him, 'Keep your head up.' And I went back to catching returns. We wish him the best."
The injury is the latest in a series of setbacks for the 49ers this offseason.
Top wide receiver Michael Crabtree is rehabbing his surgically repaired right Achilles tendon and is expected to miss at least half the season — and likely more. Mario Manningham is coming off an ACL tear in his knee and is expected to be back "at some point" this season, Harbaugh has said.
Fellow wideouts Kyle Williams, A.J. Jenkins and Kassim Osgood each came off the field Tuesday with apparent leg issues and have sat out the past two days. And Quinton Patton can't catch passes due to a soft cast on his injured middle finger on his left hand. He has been running routes in a blue jersey.