The Niners seem to be leaning toward resting star receiver Terrell Owens for Saturday's game against the Arizona Cardinals - and perhaps for the rest of the season - which would mean more playing time for Stokes than he has seen since returning in November from a knee injury that cost him his starting role opposite Owens to Tai Streets.
Owens didn't practice this week and whether he plays Saturday is likely to be a game-time decision. "He wants to, he hopes to, we would like him to, but it will depend on how he is feeling," coach Steve Mariucci said, which seems to indicate Owens won't play.
That likely means more action for Stokes, and even in this kind of situation, he could use the work. Since returning from sprained ligaments in his right knee on Nov. 3, Stokes has 13 receptions in seven games. He was shut out last week against Green Bay - and had just two receptions for three yards the week before against Dallas - and has produced only 26 receptions for 255 yards this year while Streets has thrived in his place.
"I really thought it would be different this year, because I did my preparation differently than I've ever done it before," Stokes said. "I felt better than ever before. I was looking forward to a great year. The injury took me out of that. Unfortunately, we're close to the end of the season, and it hasn't really happened."
Since Stokes' return from injury, the Niners' offensive plans seem to have moved on without him. Stokes - who took a hefty pay cut to avoid being dropped by the team this season - is finishing the fourth season of a seven-year contract he signed in 1999, but the final two years of the deal are voidable. If the 49ers can release him without taking an exorbitant hit to their salary cap, he seems a likely target to be let go in the offseason.
"I'm not even going to comment on that," Stokes said. "I'm just going to leave that alone. Whatever they choose to do, they're going to do."
Stokes said he only is worrying about what he can do for the Niners the rest of this season.
"My focus is on the here and now," he said. "Right now, I'm looking forward to the playoffs, and having the opportunity to make big plays."