aldon smith willis 49ersSunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers will start the second half of the season for the 49ers. A 6-2 record entering the stretch run is fantastic, especially considering the adversity the team faced early on. Now they’re getting healthy for a span of schedule that looks a little different than when it was released during the offseason.

At first glance, this game against the Panthers was one of the easier bouts for the 49ers. Cam Newton slid backwards last year and their defense wasn’t anything special. Now, half a season has proven their defense is one of the best in the league, and Newton’s struggles were more of the sophomore slump variety than actually being a regression to the mean.

The key to perhaps the entire season for the 49ers will be facing the Saints in Week 11. They’re a lot like the Seahawks: a bully at home and an average team on the road. San Francisco will have to travel to New Orleans, while the Seahawks get the Saints at home (advantage: Seattle).

Because the Panthers, Texans, Rams and now Buccaneers have all managed to collapse late against Seattle, they’ll hold the top spot in the NFC West should they stay undefeated coming into Candlestick on Dec. 8. The 49ers will have to run the table and beat the Seahawks if they want to win the division and enjoy homefield advantage during the playoffs, and that will have to include getting a big win in the Big Easy.

But it all starts with beating the Carolina Panthers. If the 49ers don’t win on Sunday, their chances of securing homefield are likely out the window.

— The weight barn is usually filled with players when the media walks past to check out practice, but it was barren today. That’s because the 49ers had pretty much all hands on deck for practice, short of Quinton Patton, who Harbaugh mentioned was looking better after getting his boot off and probably would play again this season. Ahmad Brooks and Michael Crabtree were wearing blue no-contact jerseys. Brooks (stinger), Ray McDonald (biceps) and Justin Smith (shoulder) were limited in practice.

— LaMichael James took some punt catching reps after practice. Harbaugh wouldn’t name names for the role on Sunday, so James taking the spot from Kyle Williams is a real possibility at this point.

— Ted Ginn was on a conference call with the media this morning, discussing his new life in Carolina and a little of his old life with the 49ers.

“It’s been great,” Ginn said. “My goal was to go out, and whoever I went to, just give them an opportunity to … feature Ted Ginn.”

And the Panthers certainly have. Through nine games he’s been targeted 32 times, catching 21 passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns. That’s 17.5 yards per catch. Compare that to his final year with San Francisco: two catches for 1 yard.

“I believe I can play receiver,” he said. “I’ve played it, I enjoyed it.” But Ginn couldn’t explain why he didn’t get more love during his time with the 49ers.

“[I was] Just being a team player, a role guy, and I was just filling my role.”

— Glenn Dorsey was the only other player to meet with the media in the tent, and he talked about embracing his role as a true nose tackle (playing over center) with the 49ers.

“This is really my first time playing over center,” he said. “I’m the type of guy, I’m going to do what my coach tells me to do. If you tell me to play a 3-4 end, in two-gap all game, that’s what I’m going to do. I had never done it before, I was playing a 4-3 tackle, but I felt like if that was the best for the team — even though I got a lot of flack for it — but I just felt like that’s my job to do, I’m going to do it the best way I can.”

He also broached the topic of hazing, based on his experience with both the 49ers and the Chiefs.

“I could tell right away that the older guys, the veteran guys they try to look out for the younger guys and the new guys,” Dorsey said of coming to the 49ers. “We don’t really partake in all the hazing stuff. We just try to help our young guys as much as we can because we’re going to need them.” He said hazing wasn’t an issue in Kansas City either.

— Colin Kaepernick met with the media, and (sort of) addressed the comparisons between he and Cam Newton.

“I think we have similar attributes,” he said, “but I think we’re both two different players. I think we’re both just trying to do the best we can to put our team in a good situation.”

Kaepernick and Newton were roommates at the combine in 2011, but if they made a friendship at the time the 49ers’ quarterback kept his lips sealed about it.

Frank Gore was a little more forthcoming with us about putting Kaepernick and Newton side-by-side.

“I think Kap’s probably a little better. I think Kap probably throws the ball better than Cam. They both run the ball well. Big, big guys. And Kap’s probably a little faster,” he said.