ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Strong safety Donte Whitner returned to practice Wednesday, creating the chance the Buffalo Bills' defensive leader will be ready to play against San Francisco this weekend.
Coach Dick Jauron said he'll have a better idea of Whitner's status after the team practices in pads on Thursday. Whitner missed a 54-31 win at Kansas City last weekend, and has been in action for only two quarters over the past three games since separating his right shoulder in a 26-17 loss to the New York Jets on Nov. 2.
The Bills (6-5), who ended a four-game skid last weekend, have left themselves with little room for error if they intend to mount a late-season playoff run. They host the reeling 49ers (3-8) on Sunday.
Whitner is the Bills' most versatile defensive back, and his return would bolster an injury-depleted defense that could be without cornerback Jabari Greer (sprained right knee) for a second straight game after the starter missed practice Wednesday. Also limping is starting linebacker Keith Ellison, who's nursing an ankle injury, and reserve linebacker Teddy Lehman, who hurt his hamstring last weekend.
With three linebackers already on injured reserve, Buffalo's corps is so depleted that reserve safety Bryan Scott is now practicing at that position.
Tight end Robert Royal (hamstring) and reserve defensive end Copeland Bryan (foot) also missed practice.
"It's not great, but that's kind of the way it is," Jauron said, assessing the team's long list of injuries. "Everybody's got injuries. You've just got to find a way to play over them, find a way to get a victory somehow."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press