Cardinals defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche surges into the backfield against the Rams.
The progress of Robert Nkemdiche is still being measured in small increments.
The Cardinals defensive lineman is finally healthy, getting past a calf strain that has nagged him since the preseason. He earned praise from Pro Football Focus in the Week 7 loss to the Rams, registering an 84.3 run defense grade for his work in the trenches.
The Cardinals' 2016 first-round pick still doesn't have a sack in the NFL -- and he's a long way from shaking the disappointing start to his career -- but he is trending in the right direction.
"I'm getting better at my technique," Nkemdiche said. "I'm just trying to become the player I know I can be."
The Cardinals could really use a breakout from Nkemdiche. While Chandler Jones has eight sacks in the first seven games of the season, there has been no consistent pass-rushing complement on the defensive front since Markus Golden's season-ending injury in Week 4.
The Cardinals have a chance to change that on Sunday against rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard and a banged up 49ers offensive line. Standout left tackle Joe Staley will miss the game with an eye injury and backup tackle Garry Gilliam is also out. Guard Brandon Fusco will play but missed two practices this week with a biceps injury.
The line can spark the defense with consistent pressure.
"When you have guys penetrating vertical as D-linemen, it just helps," Nkemdiche said. "That's something I'm going to try to bring, and that's something we're predicated on as D-linemen anyway. That's part of our technique and our assignment, is to get vertical. I'm going to do that. I'm feeling good and healthy."
Coach Bruce Arians, who has been both complimentary and critical of Nkemdiche in the past, has been happy with his recent output.
"He's getting better and better," Arians said. "He had a great week of practice. He was disruptive in the game. He's been pretty solid for a month."
RETURN OF ELLINGTON WOULD HELP
Running back Andre Ellington is questionable with a quadriceps injury after missing Week 7, but did practice in limited fashion each day this week. He seems likely to return to the lineup, which would be a welcome boost.
The Cardinals have Adrian Peterson to do most of the damage on the ground -- and he is expected to get a heavy workload Sunday -- but Ellington is the ideal third-down back because he can catch passes. He is second on the team in receptions with 28 and fourth with 257 yards receiving.
"Andre brings explosiveness," Arians said. "Kerwynn (Williams) did a nice job when he had his opportunity the other night on a pass, but Dre is more of a threat. I think more of throwing the ball to him when he's out there."
The other Cardinals who are questionable for the game are linebacker Karlos Dansby (finger/hamstring), wide receiver Brittan Golden (groin), wide receiver Chad Williams (back) and defensive lineman Frostee Rucker (knee/hip). Center Daniel Munyer (toe) won't play.
For the 49ers, missing the game will be wide receiver Pierre Garcon (neck), defensive tackle D.J. Jones (knee), defensive end Aaron Lynch (calf), defensive end Solomon Thomas (knee) and cornerback K'Waun Williams (quadriceps) in addition to Staley and Gilliam.
Linebacker Reuben Foster (ribs) is questionable. Safety Jimmie Ward (arm) was placed on injured reserve earlier this week.
RUCKER NAMED CARDINALS' SALUTE TO SERVICE NOMINEE
The Cardinals have nominated Rucker for the NFL and USAA's seventh annual Salute to Service Award. The honor recognizes players, coaches, personnel and alumni who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to honoring and supporting the military community.
Images of some key players on the 49ers in advance of Sunday's game