NFC West: San Francisco 49ers

Jim Harbaugh, who spent 14 years as an NFL quarterback with the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers, was known as Captain Comeback for his late-game heroics.

He was not particularly admired for his scrambling ability, though. And yet, with 2,787 career rushing yards, he ranks 10th in NFL history among quarterbacks.

So surely he’d have a take on Hall of Fame QB and ESPN analyst Steve Young’s recent take that his own skill set as a running quarterback stunted his growth as a pocket passer, the inference being that Colin Kaepernick ’s running ability could be slowing his arm’s development.

Harbaugh did not hesitate.

“He’s growing and growing and growing as a pocket passer,” Harbaugh said of Kaepernick. “I think he’s one of the most dynamic pocket passers in the game of football today. And he’s one of the most dynamic runners.”

Kaepernick’s 322 rushing yards this season rank second to Seattle’s Russell Wilson and his 571 yards, but Kaepernick’s Total QB Rating of 54.9 is his lowest since he became the Niners’ starting quarterback in 2012.

Young, meanwhile, is No. 3 all-time for a QB with 4,239 rushing yards, behind Michael Vick (6,006 yards and counting) and Randall Cunningham (4,928).

The rest of the top nine: Fran Tarkenton (3,674), Steve McNair (3,590), Donovan McNabb (3,459), John Elway (3,407), Tobin Rote (3,128) and Kordell Stewart (2,874).

How, then, would Harbaugh describe his own playing experience, which included one Pro Bowl selection?

“Pretty mediocre,” he said.

“Yeah, I was mediocre. I was a mediocre player. Kap’s a great player. That’s a big difference.”
Anthony Davis, who started the first 64 games of his NFL career but has already missed five games this season, will miss a sixth game on Sunday.

The San Francisco 49ers’ fifth-year right tackle, who has already battled shoulder, hamstring and knee and ankle issues this season, was ruled out of the team’s game against Washington still suffering from symptoms of the concussion he suffered late in the Niners’ victory at the New York Giants on Sunday.

With Davis out, Jonathan Martin will start at right tackle for the sixth time this season.

“Yes, feel good about Jonathan Martin,” said coach Jim Harbaugh.

Also ruled out was nose tackle Glenn Dorsey, who was just added to the 53-man roster from the short-term IR on Monday. Dorsey suffered a torn left biceps tendon in training camp but is listed as having a forearm issue now.

With Dorsey out and Ian Williams on injured reserve, Quinton Dial figures to start at nose tackle for the second straight week.

And while both cornerback Tramaine Brock and receiver/kick returner Bruce Ellington were listed as questionable to play, neither practiced this week.

Following is the 49ers’ status report for Sunday’s game against Washington:

Redskins vs. 49ers preview

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
video When: 1:25 p.m. PT Sunday Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara TV: CBS

The San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins meet for the second time in Week 12 in as many years. And just like last season, both teams appear to be heading in opposite directions. This time, though, the Niners and Washington meet on a Sunday in Santa Clara, rather than on a Monday night outside of the nation’s capital. NFL Nation reporters Paul Gutierrez and John Keim break down the matchup.

Gutierrez: Hey, John, wasn’t too long ago that Robert Griffin III was the toast of football in his Superman socks as the epitome of the unselfish athlete. Now? Seems like he represents all that is wrong with Washington's NFL franchise and lacks an accountability gene. What is the truest picture of RGIII you can paint at this point in time based on your interactions with him and what teammates say?

Keim: I'll start with this: No one who was in his news conference Sunday felt he had thrown teammates under the bus. Or at least none of the people I talked about it with later. Before he said the one line in which he went too far, Griffin had spent the entire time blaming himself and saying how he needed to play better. I’ll knock him when it’s justified and in this case what he needed to do is what Jay Gruden later said: Worry about yourself. Yes, there are teammates who don’t like him and, especially last year, there were guys who felt he should take more blame. There are others who love him. A big problem was that so much became about him, especially after the knee surgery, that it dominated too much of the conversation. Also, it led to a circus atmosphere that players grew tired of and definitely turned off some players. But I'll also say: Even Darrell Green had his detractors when he played here, probably more than you’d think. I don’t worry who likes whom -- not since I was in high school at least. I worry more about whether the guy is earning respect based on his work and his play. Griffin has work to do in that area -- he certainly earned it as a rookie, but not the past two seasons. I think what he represents to Redskins fans as much as anything is lost hope. I’ve never seen a honeymoon with an athlete in this town like I did with Griffin, where he was almost irrationally beloved. And then he played the way he did as a rookie and fans rightfully dreamed of a fantastic future. Now they face a cold reality: Griffin hasn’t become who they hoped and might never do so and this franchise has no clue how to build a winner.

I liked Chris Borland in college, but felt he had strong limitations and would be vulnerable in certain areas and perhaps better in a 4-3 defense. But he seems like one reason this defense has continued to flourish despite injuries. Are you surprised by what they’ve done given some of their losses -- and how have they maintained a high level of play despite injuries? And what is the impact of Aldon Smith’s return?

Gutierrez: Given the amount of star power missing from the defense all season long, yes, I’m somewhat surprised by how well the defense has played. So kudos to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Truly, the Niners have been in every game but one, the blowout loss at Denver in what amounted to a coronation for Peyton Manning as the NFL's TD passing king, and that’s a credit to the defense. Because while the Niners' 308.8 yards per game surrendered average is the fourth best in the NFL and on pace to be better than last year’s mark, they are down in just about every other category. Points allowed is up from 17.0 to 21.2, third-down percentage defense is up from 34.1 to 44.7 and opponent total QBR is up from 39.9 to 48.8. And still, the defense has been the steadying influence. Sure, Patrick Willis is on IR, along with nose tackle Ian Williams. Glenn Dorsey is back to spell Williams, NaVorro Bowman's 21-day evaluation window was opened on Tuesday and Smith made an impact Sunday at the New York Giants, causing quarterback Eli Manning to hear footsteps as he threw five interceptions. Teams have to account for his brand of speed rush now and, with rookie Aaron Lynch a virtual Smith clone on the other side, Smith’s impact grows. So long as Ahmad Brooks buys in.

OK, time for a question so simple it’s hard: Is Washington a better team with Colt McCoy under center than with RGIII?

Keim: I think they’d look sharper in aspects of their offense with McCoy right now, though people forget in the first half of that win over Dallas the offense was put in fantastic positions and did almost nothing with him at quarterback. Then he flourished in the second half. I’d trust him to take the proper drops and get the ball out in rhythm, which would be a big benefit. Keep in mind, though, that the Redskins would have beaten Minnesota a week later with Griffin had the defense showed up in the second half. But he failed miserably against Tampa Bay. Still, with McCoy maybe they become a six-win team rather than a four- or five-win team by season’s end. I think he’s just a good backup ultimately. But the Redskins need to find out what they have in Griffin. His talent is terrific so if he develops he’d take them far. But there’s definite frustration, which you heard from Gruden Monday. Perhaps Gruden was sending a message to the owner as well, knowing that Griffin is his guy (after all, he gave up three first-round picks and a second-rounder only two years ago).

Washington always has drama, but it’s usually because the team loses and then the dam bursts. But the Niners have their own drama with Jim Harbaugh and what will happen in the future. What do you think will happen -- and how have the players handled this? How big a topic is it with them?

Gutierrez: To a man, at least publicly, the players insist the Harbaugh storylines are media created and driven and pay them no mind. And that’s easy to believe …when the Niners are winning games. But the stories pick up steam when they lose and you know that old yarn about where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. Look, it’s a Super Bowl or bust season for the Niners and while they are three plays away from being 3-7 (the Eagles not pounding it in from the 1-yard line, the fourth-and-10, 51-yard catch by Michael Crabtree at New Orleans and the Giants unable to get into the end zone despite having first-and-goal at the 4-yard line), they are in the thick of the playoff race. Anything less, and I have a hard time seeing Harbaugh returning. In fact, with so much drama, real and imagined, I can still see Harbaugh moving on after the season, despite having one year left on his contract. The two most popular rumored destinations at the moment? Try his alma mater at Michigan and that Silver and Black outfit across the Bay in the Oakland Raiders. But like anything else, this is a very fluid situation. Very fluid.

The 49ers are 7-2 against the NFC East under Harbaugh, including 3-0 this season against the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants. Why does Washington have a chance Sunday in Santa Clara?

Keim: Because I’ve covered the NFL long enough to never be surprised by anything. A few weeks ago the Redskins went to Dallas as double-digit dogs and looked like a completely different team than they’ve looked for most of the season. They went to Philadelphia earlier this year and lost by three. Of course, they also lost at home by 31 to the Giants and by 20 to Tampa Bay. The problem is, I’m guessing offensive tackle Trent Williams won’t play and that leaves Washington vulnerable against guys like Smith. Very vulnerable. And the Niners’ defense still looks pretty good despite the injuries. The Redskins turn it over too much and take too many negative plays, which they absolutely can’t do Sunday. Their defense, I think, can do all right against the Niners’ offense and that could keep the game interesting for a little while. Then you never know. With DeSean Jackson, they’re often one throw from stinging a team. Maybe it’s a one-in-a-million chance they win. To which the Redskins would say, “So you’re saying there’s a chance.”

What have you thought of Colin Kaepernick’s play this season? Where has he progressed and what is he struggling with?

Gutierrez: I’ll use the words of a scout who gave me a breakdown of Kaepernick one month into the season -- he has not necessarily regressed, but he has not progressed as much as many thought he would have by now, either. A lot of that has to do with an uncharacteristic number of drops by his receivers, a decidedly down year by tight end Vernon Davis and his being sacked 32 times (tied for the league lead). Look, the offense goes through him more this year than ever, and even he would admit he has been inconsistent. Telling you exactly why is another matter entirely. But our good friends at ESPN Stats & Info provided a glimpse. His total QBR rating of 54.9 this season is his worst in any season since he became the Niners’ starter, trailing the 68.6 he had last year and the 71.8 he posted in 2012. And his yards per pass attempt (7.4), yards per rush (4.9) and sack percentage (8.5) are also career lows. He is still working on his touch on fades, though he did finally connect on one, to Anquan Boldin, and Kaepernick is dangerous as a runner, though the Niners would prefer he become more of the prototypical pocket passer.

Anthony Davis missed practice Thursday for the second time this week, putting the San Francisco 49ers right tackle’s availability for Sunday’s home game against Washington in doubt.

Davis is still going through the NFL’s mandated concussion prototcol after taking what he called a “spinning elbow” to the head late in the Niners’ 16-10 victory over the New York Giants last Sunday.

Also, a day after practicing in a limited fashion, nose tackle Glenn Dorsey sat out practice and tight end Vance McDonald appeared on the report Thursday with a hip issue.

Following is the 49ers’ injury report for Thursday:
In his weekly media conference on Monday, San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was asked about agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration conducting a surprise inspection of the Niners' locker room following their 16-10 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday.

Following is a transcript, supplied by the 49ers, of Harbaugh's Q&A when it was specifically about the inspection:

What did you think of the DEA officials showing up after the game? That's obviously not a normal postgame occurrence.
"Haven't thought anything about it. I don't know anything about it. Don't know anything about it. I did see where my name was, I was linked with walking out with Dr. [Tim] McAdams and I were supposedly walking out of the locker room together. I don't know anything about that either. I walked out with my wife, Sarah [Harbaugh], and my daughter, Addie [Harbaugh], and I think [49ers director of communications] Bob Lange was next to us too. But was Dr. McAdams with us? 'What's your point?' I know nothing."

What did you think of the issue when you were a player? Did you take pain killers often? Did you ever worry that would be an issue or a health concern long-term?
"I love the questions, 'when you were a player.' I've forgotten half of my life from when I was a player."

Why do you think they picked San Francisco? They said it was at random, these drug tests. Would you care to speculate as to why they might have picked you and these other teams in particular? Would it have been that they were in large markets? Apparently there (was) media that was alerted about this? Was there anything to suspect in this locker room? Have you ever seen anything like this in locker rooms?
"No, I have not. And to speculate, I don't know. I have no idea."

How do you respond to the fact that they even came to the 49ers? Do you take that personally?
"I don't know anything about it. So, it's hard to take anything personally."

You never saw them?
"No. I didn't see them."

Nobody's saying anything about it inside the team today? Nobody's told you anything about it? You've got to know something about it.
"I don't know anything about it. I don't. Is there a follow-up there? Do you want to follow-up on something there? I don't want to make the impression that Bob's cutting anything off here."

Well, it's just everybody's talking about it.

Well, everybody that follows the NFL. There were columns this morning talking about how the NFL has been ignoring the pain problem for decades, for generations. There are ex-players coming out. There's a lawsuit saying that they've had health complications because of this.
"We're an open book in those regards. So, any kind of scrutiny, any questions, we're an open book there."

Just a question, a general question, what do you think is the difference in the public perception of pain management in the NFL and the reality of how it's dealt with?
"I can't say that I know that for sure."

When you say it's documented like that, was it not in the past? I know you don't recall all of your playing days, but do you recall it not being inventoried that way?
"I don't know when it started. But, I know our trainer [49ers vice president of football operations] Jeff Ferguson spends a lot of time in terms of documentations and inventory because I've heard him tell me that he spends a lot of time. A lot of paperwork there. A lot of paperwork and documenting and inventorying."

And you couldn't hazard a guess to why they picked you guys?
"No. There were others, right? Maybe you can hazard a guess."

There were others. Well it's my job to ask you the question.
"Hey, we love it. I mean, that's oversight and documentation and sounds like you have a little better handle on what's taking place than I do."

They didn't ask you any questions?
"No. Don't know anything about it."

How did you find out about it?
"I read about it. Remember, I said I was supposedly walking with the doctor."

Do players play in pain or do they take medication?
"We're going to start talking about all players and every kind of ..."

Let's talk about your personal experience. You played quarterback in the NFL. Heck, I've got to take an aspirin to go play golf on Sunday morning or an anti whatever you call it.
"Anti-inflammatory? Aspirin, etcetera."

Yeah. But, I mean from what we hear there's bigger stuff than that. Is it expected of a player to do that, to take that stuff?
"No. No, there's no expectation of that."

If it's suggested to a player and he doesn't take it, what's the response?
"It's not suggested."

It is not?

Even with a 53-man roster and people waiting, isn't there pressure on a player to--?
"As I said, I made my point. I think we've plowed this ground about as thoroughly as we can plow it. It's been plowed, it's been seeded and now it's grown. It's well documented. We're an open book in terms of how we catalog and how we dispense."

The Film Don't Lie: 49ers

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
A weekly look at what the San Francisco 49ers must fix:

We already know the 49ers' offense is absolutely dreadful when it gets inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. After coming away with just two field goals in four red zone trips Sunday at the New York Giants, it is ranked 30th in red zone offensive efficiency, on pace to be the Niners’ worst such ranking since 2006.

And with Washington coming to Levi’s Stadium on Sunday -- Washington is 18th in red zone defensive efficiency -- the Niners have a chance to improve on their inside-the-20 deficiencies.

They better. Despite having already picked off Eli Manning four times on Sunday, the 49ers still needed a goal-line stand -- and another Manning pick -- to hold on for the 16-10 victory.

Sure, Washington seems in dire straits with coach Jay Gruden calling out quarterback Robert Griffin III on Monday to show more accountability. But to a man, the 49ers admit they need to handle their own business first. And the first order of business is getting their red zone offense right.

“We’ll watch the film and try to clean up what we’re not doing in the red zone,” said running back Frank Gore, who rushed for 95 yards against the Giants but cost the Niners when he coughed up the ball in the first quarter when they were at the New York 19-yard line.

“I hurt us on the fumble in the red zone and that could have been, if not seven, that could have been three points.”

Per ESPN Stats & Information, the 49ers posted minus-10.8 expected points added in the red zone Sunday, the fifth-worst total by any team this season. And while their red zone offensive efficiency is 30th, their TD percentage of 39.4 in the red zone ranks 31st and their red zone Total QBR of 44.2 is 24th.
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh would neither confirm nor deny on Monday reports that linebacker Ahmad Brooks benched himself in the second half of the Niners' 16-10 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday in protest of his playing time being cut with the return of Aldon Smith.

All Harbaugh would say is the situation with Brooks is settled.

"Yes, we've addressed it and had those conversations," Harbaugh said in his weekly media conference. "Onward."

Asked if he could be more specific, Harbaugh went, well, Harbaugh.

"Yeah, I can be specific," he said. "I can be very specific. It's something I don't want to share with you or share publicly."

Still, Harbaugh did say he expected Brooks, who has started 58 of the last 58 games in which he's appeared for the 49ers, to play this weekend against Washington at Levi's Stadium.

Brooks played the first two-plus series for the 49ers on Sunday, the first three snaps opposite Smith, before being replaced by rookie Aaron Lynch.

"Honestly, I don't know what happened there," Lynch said after the game. "I don't know what the deal was. I love the guy. He's a big brother to me. As far as what happened off the field, or on the field, I don't know what happened."

Brooks, who riled coaches by showing up to training camp heavier than expected and was at the center of a trade rumor that had him going to Cleveland last month, declined to talk after the game, saying, "I'm not taking questions today. Maybe later in the week ... yeah, we're working through something."

Harbaugh said the Niners "need Ahmad Brooks to win a championship" after the victory at the Meadowlands.
The San Francisco 49ers on Monday added nose tackle Glenn Dorsey to the 53-man roster from the short-term injured reserve list, three weeks after he began practicing following his biceps injury suffered in training camp.

In the corresponding roster move, the Niners placed nose tackle Ian Williams on season-ending IR with his left fibula injury suffered Nov. 9 at New Orleans.

A year ago, Williams was lost for the year in the season's second game with a broken ankle and Dorsey started the season's final 13 regular-season games and three playoff games. Dorsey, the Kansas City Chiefs' No. 5 overall pick in the 2008 draft, had 41 tackles last season with two sacks.

Williams, meanwhile, started eight of the nine games in which he appeared this season with career highs in tackles (41), sacks (one) and passes defensed (one).

Coach Jim Harbaugh also said the 49ers would open linebacker NaVorro Bowman's 21-day window Tuesday for practicing with the team. Bowman is still recuperating from a devastating left knee injury suffered in last January's NFC title game at Seattle.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Aldon Smith may have been essentially shut out on the stat sheet, but the San Francisco 49ers' All-Pro outside linebacker did make his presence felt in Sunday's 16-10 victory over the New York Giants.

In ways that transcends his two quarterback hurries.

Since entering the game in the second quarter, the Giants' third offensive series, Smith basically played the remainder of the game and New York had to account for him, throwing double- and triple-teams at him on occasion.

"I felt good," Smith said. "I started of a little slow and rusty, but as the game went on, I got more comfortable and I was able to go out there and try to just pick up where I left off.

"By the time the third quarter came around, I was feeling good."

Smith, whose 0.98 sacks per game career average entering the game was the best in the NFL since the sack became a stat in 1982, came close to getting Eli Manning a couple of times -- as evidenced by the aforementioned hurries -- but he could not break through.

Still ...

"It was great," said rookie inside linebacker Chris Borland, who led the 49ers with 12 tackles. "He's a premier pass-rusher and a leader on our team.

"I saw [the Giants] chipping him a few times."

Manning threw five interceptions, after coming into the game with six picks on the season. And the way strong safety Antoine Bethea saw it, Smith's presence may have had more than a little something to do with what Borland referred to as Manning having "happy feet" against the 49ers.

Because Smith did pop Manning hard at least once.

"It was big having (No.) 9-9 out there on the edge and just knowing what type of pressure he can get on the quarterback," Bethea said. "As a DB, that is what you want, being able to look at the quarterback and get some good jumps on the ball."

Smith agreed.

"I was able to get back there and put some pressure on the quarterback," he said. "As a result, some of those turned into interceptions and forced bad throws. I'm just glad I was able to get out there and help out."
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- While the season is just getting started for San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith, the year has come to a close for the Niners’ first-round draft pick, defensive back Jimmie Ward.

Smith, whose nine-game suspension “for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse and the league’s Personal Conduct Policy” has now been served in full, was activated off the exempt list Saturday to the active 53-man roster. Ward, who injured his right foot last week at New Orleans but continued to play against the Saints, was placed on season-ending injured reserve in the corresponding roster move.

Ward had already been ruled out of Sunday’s game at the New York Giants with the injury, which occurred to the same foot that required surgery to repair a Jones fracture in March. Ward had 23 tackles and two passes defensed in eight games.

With Ward out, Perrish Cox will likely slide inside to become the 49ers’ nickelback.

It was also thought the 49ers could activate nose tackle Glenn Dorsey off short-term IR, with Ian Williams also ruled out with a left fibula injury. But no such move was made and, with the Giants likely to use three-wideout sets, the Niners should spend most of their time in nickel packages anyway.

The 49ers have until Monday, when his 21-day practice window closes, to either activate Dorsey, who suffered a torn biceps tendon in his left arm in camp, or place him on season-ending IR.

Quinton Dial or Tony Jerod-Eddie should start at nose tackle against the Giants in the Niners’ base 3-4 defense.
Before jumping in a plane headed to New York for Sunday’s game against the Giants, San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh spoke to the media on Friday afternoon.

Harbaugh broached a few newsworthy topics but did not really break any new ground. A sampling, then, of Harbaugh’s last presser before Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium…

On if the reported “clean” MRI of linebacker NaVorro Bowman’s left knee meant the Niners would jump-start his comeback: “Well, I’m not skilled to read an MRI and the doctors are, so I know Dr. [Tim] McAdams, Dr. [James] Andrews have looked at it and I’m sure they’d be willing to share their thoughts with you.”

On if doctors have talked with Harbaugh on a timetable for Bowman’s return to practice: “Again, I’ll refer to expert medical opinion at reading MRIs.”

On how recently reinstated linebacker Aldon Smith had looked in practice after serving his nine-game suspension: “Good. He’s looked good all week. Been great. He’s had a bounce in his step and looks like he’s enjoying it. Having fun out there and that’s been great to see.”

On if Smith has knocked off some of the rust: “Yeah. I mean, as you go, as you’re thrown back into action, the biggest thing is that the instincts get honed, the reflexes are honed as you go each day.”

On how rookie inside linebacker Chris Borland has been able to make such a big impact: “A very talented player. Means a lot to him. Gives great effort. Very smart and executes all his assignments and he did that in college. As we evaluated him through the draft, I know he may [have] in his family and have other people that are big fans of his, but I’m tied for at least his No. 1 fan through the draft evaluating process and since he’s been here.”

On how big of a challenge it is to travel and play in New Orleans and New Jersey in consecutive weeks: “Well, the biggest challenge is going over to play a very good football team in their stadium. It’s a road game. Those are the greatest share of the challenge, the task.”
San Francisco 49ers rookie linebacker Chris Borland and 10-year veteran running back Frank Gore were upgraded from limited participation in Wednesday’s practice to full participants on Thursday.

There were no other changes to the 49ers’ injury report.

Still, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio did say earlier in the day that rookie defensive back Jimmie Ward “probably” would not play Sunday at the New York Giants and expressed doubt about linebacker Dan Skuta’s availability as well.

“Right now, it doesn’t look that way, but we’ll see,” Fangio said when asked about Skuta potentially starting against the Giants. “He had a pretty good ankle injury and he’s still rehabbing it vigorously. We’ll see how he does the remainder of the week.”

The 49ers’ injury report for Thursday:

Did not participate: CB Tramaine Brock (hamstring), WR Bruce Ellington (ankle), DE Justin Smith (not injury related), S Jimmie Ward (foot), DT Ian Williams (fibula)

Limited participation: DE Ray McDonald (knee), LB Dan Skuta (ankle)

Full participation: LB Chris Borland (shoulder), RB Frank Gore (hip), S Eric Reid (ankle)
San Francisco 49ers rookie defensive back Jimmie Ward, the team’s first-round draft pick in May and starting nickel defensive back, “probably” will not play this weekend against the New York Giants, according to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

"He sustained an injury in the game the other day with his foot," Fangio said of Ward. "Probably don’t expect him to play this week. And we’ll go from there."

Ward had a Jones fracture in his right foot that required surgery in March. It was a surprise at the time to Ward, who participated in his pro day at Northern Illinois but sat out the scouting combine.

Fangio was asked if Ward had the same injury.

"I don’t know," Fangio said. "Nobody’s told me that it’s a Jones fracture or anything. I know it’s in his foot, the same foot that he injured prior. I don’t know the exact particulars of it."

Ward, who has 20 tackles and two passes defensed in eight games, did not practice Wednesday.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- By all accounts, the San Francisco 49ers received high grades after their draft in May. Despite being a stacked team that had played in three straight NFC title games, they were able to select players who could contribute immediately.

But due to injury and attrition, not even the Niners could have imagined just how big said contributions would be 10 weeks into the season.

 Consider: Seven of the 49ers’ 12 draft picks have already made major contributions, with third-rounder Chris Borland racking up 35 tackles combined in the past two games since stepping in for Patrick Willis at an inside linebacker position. It was Borland who recovered the fumble to set up the 49ers’ game-winning field goal in overtime Sunday in New Orleans, and he also has a sack of Peyton Manning on his résumé.

Plus, fifth-rounder Aaron Lynch is starting at an outside linebacker spot and has two sacks, third-rounder Marcus Martin is starting at center, first-rounder Jimmie Ward is the starting nickel defensive back and fourth-rounder Bruce Ellington is the kick and punt returner, though he was injured last weekend in New Orleans.

“You always pick players, sign players, and understand that they have the license and the ability to do anything, anything can happen,” said Niners coach Jim Harbaugh. “Really pleased that these guys are playing well and acquitting themselves well. You prove to yourself. It’s a jump from college to pro football. It’s a jump from junior high football to high school. It’s a jump from high school to college football.

“When you’re in that first year, doing everything for the first time, you wonder, even the best players are wondering, ‘Can I do this? Can I do this at the level that I think I can and want to have.’ And these guys have proven that they belong, and they’re quality football players. Very excited about it.”

Harbaugh specifically mentioned the play of Martin last weekend in the raucous Superdome, and how well he played in handling the offensive line.

Besides the afore mentioned five “starting” rookies, second-round running back Carlos Hyde has 54 carries and is averaging 4.0 yards per attempt and has three rushing touchdowns.

And fourth-round cornerback Dontae Johnson has a 20-yard pick-6 against the St. Louis Rams’ Austin Davis on Oct. 13.

“Keep going, keep going,” Harbaugh said. “I tell them that all the time. Keep encouraging them in that way.”
Why, after so many off-the-field transgressions that resulted in an NFL-mandated nine-game suspension, should you trust Aldon Smith to stay out of trouble?

“Honestly, time will show,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I’m not going to sit here and give you some, whatever, crazy answer. Time will show, you know?”

The San Francisco 49ers are counting on it, especially with the outside linebacker’s suspension ending as inside linebacker Patrick Willis' season ends after being placed on injured reserve with a toe injury.

Smith called his suspension ending “one of the top exciting moments of my life.”

Even if his suspension was never reduced as numerous reports suggested it would be. And while Smith took umbrage with an ESPN report that said the reason for his suspension not being reduced was because he had not finished mandated counseling -- “I did everything that was necessary,” he said -- he was willing to move on.

“It’s not important,” he said. “I’m happy to be here.”

The 49ers, whose 15 sacks rank tied for 24th in the league with the Dallas Cowboys and San Diego Chargers, could use his brand of pass rush.

In 43 career games since entering the NFL as the No. 7 overall draft pick in 2011, Smith has 42 sacks. He figures to pick up where he left off, reclaiming the spot taken by Dan Skuta in his absence with the Niners playing at the New York Giants this weekend.

Smith could work out at the team facility and attend meetings during his suspension but was banned from practicing with the team and from attending games.

Football-wise, he said he spent his free time watching tape and doing some “self-scouting” and “polishing up my own stuff” to prepare for regaining eligibility. Off the field, he said he put in considerable time with local Boys & Girls clubs.

Still, he was aware of the ticking clock.

“You keep hearing your name and you’re like, ‘Oh, man, obviously I’m missed out there,’” he said. “But it just put that much more in my drive when I was preparing, whether if it was my working out or whatever I was doing to mentally be prepared to come back. So it was just something in the back of my head.

“My body feels good and I’m ready to go.”