Walter Jones could play Sunday for the Seahawks at San Francisco, one month to the day after knee surgery.
Seattle's nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle had his most extensive practice on Friday since his second knee surgery in eight months. The 35-year-old did some team drills and is listed as questionable.
Coach Jim Mora said Jones has progressed more than expected. He's waiting for his star to say he's ready, but Mora cautioned "we can't be greedy" and play Jones too soon.
"Walter just needs to let us know. When he's ready to go, we'll get him in there _ whether it's this Sunday, next Sunday, the following Sunday," Mora said.
As for how the Seahawks' already jumbled offensive line would resettle once Jones gets back, Mora said the coaches haven't discussed that.
"I don't think we anticipated early in the week Walt being where he is," Mora said. "We have to make the right decision with Walt."
Jones had microfracture surgery on his left knee last winter and missed the final four games of the 2008 season, his first absences due to injury since his rookie year of 1997.
Top wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh practiced for the first time this week following back spasms. He is listed as probable and says he will start.
Deion Branch is less likely to play. He missed another day with a strained hamstring that he first hurt in practice on Sept. 7.
Branch has yet to make the impact the Seahawks thought they'd get in 2006, when they traded a first-round draft choice to New England to get the former Super Bowl MVP and then gave him a $39 million contract with $13 million guaranteed.
Branch senses that, which is why he is anxious to get back _ strained hamstring or not.
"I would hate for Deion to go out there because he is so anxious to play, and prove his worth and make plays to help this team win, that he re-strains that thing and he misses three or four more games," Mora said. "We just want to make sure he is healthy."
Seattle has three other starters listed as questionable for a game that will determine the early leader in the NFC West: linebacker Lofa Tatupu (hamstring), center Chris Spencer (quadriceps) and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (calf).
Tatupu hasn't practiced all week. He's been standing behind Mora and coordinator Gus Bradley at the back of the defense, holding a play sheet and following the game plan. But Mora is counting on having the leader of his defense.
After practice Friday, Tatupu talked of the importance of stopping San Francisco runner Frank Gore and other 49ers keys _ with the presumption he will be in there.
"Knowing Lofa, I expect him to play," Mora said of his rugged, three-time Pro Bowler. "Once again, we will wait and see how he feels on Sunday before the game."
Seattle is already without linebacker Leroy Hill for at least six weeks because of a torn groin.