BRADENTON, Fla. – After missing the past three games with a broken right ring finger, 49ers left tackle Joe Staley is feeling better than when he briefly re-entered the lineup last month.

“A lot better,” Staley said Wednesday as the 49ers began preparing to face the New Orleans Saints with a two-hour practice the IMG Academy.

“Leg feels better, stronger, and (my) back’s feeling good. (My) finger is feeling better.”

Staley, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, missed six games earlier this season due to a fractured left fibula – the non-weight-bearing bone of his lower leg. When he returned to face the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 11, he was probably was not physically ready, and it showed. Seattle defensive end Jadevon Clowney recorded a sack and 10 quarterback hurries in the Seahawks' 27-24 victory over the 49ers.

Staley's left leg was lacking in strength, which might have caused the issues he experienced with his back, too. Then, he sustained a broken and dislocated finger against the Seahawks. His injury required surgery and another three games on the sideline.

“It’s been hard, honestly,” Staley said. “It’s been hard. It’s just one day at a time, and you try to keep yourself mentally into it. Then, coming back for the Seattle game, and body not feeling the way it did, having the setback with the finger and having to miss more games. It’s been hard.”

 

Staley, a 13-year pro, has experienced bad, good and more bad throughout his career with the 49ers. Now, the team has turned the corner and is in the hunt for NFC homefield advantage with a 10-2 record. Staley has been a spectator for all but three games this season.

“Late in my career and having to wait around for the team to be what it is right now, and feeling like you’re not a part of it,” Staley said.

Rookie Justin Skule started eight games in place of Staley at left tackle. Last week, Daniel Brunskill moved into the starting lineup.

Staley, 35, has saved some wear on his body and could be feeling strong for the final month of the season and the playoffs. But he said the downside of missing so much action outweighs the positive.

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“I missed out on two months of reps, two months of practices, two months of being on the details,” Staley said. “That’s what makes you good. It’s not just saving yourself for the playoffs. I missed out on a lot of work.

“I’ll be feeling a little better that way (physically), but it’s all about every single day getting those reps. I’m excited about getting back out there and start working.”