- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers' practice field is an amazingly talented place these days.
In what has a chance to be one of the more compelling stories in the NFL in the second half, the 49ers are getting several reinforcements.
The 49ers (6-2) had their bye in Week 9 following a five-game winning streak, and the off week was not a quiet one.
They activated four players who could have an impact: pass-rusher Aldon Smith, receiver Mario Manningham, cornerback Eric Wright and rookie defensive lineman Tank Carradine. Also, standout receiver Michael Crabtree was cleared to practice this week, and barring a setback from a torn Achilles, he will be ready to play by the end of the month.
Has a contender ever had this type of firepower come back to a team for the stretch run? Barring setbacks, they will all have major roles. The additions will deepen every aspect of a team that was already hot, one that outscored its opponents by a combined score of 174-61 during its win streak.
Linebacker Ahmad Brooks said Tuesday it's special to get all the players back and that it will allow the team to hit its stride when it counts most.
“I think San Francisco has weathered the storm, and right now, they would be my pick to come out of the NFC,” ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said.
Williamson and fellow ESPN analyst Louis Riddick said the key additions will be the receivers and Smith. Getting more out of the receiving crew beyond Anquan Boldin is paramount.
“Most importantly, the big-play weapons on the outside,” Riddick said. “[It's] going to make them more multiple in what they can do, which they will need ultimately to deal with the divisional nemesis Seattle.”
Smith brings serious pass-rush presence. His 38 sacks since entering the league in 2011 is second in the NFL.
ESPN analyst Gary Horton said the additions will have an effect on the entire team.
“It makes them so deep,” Horton said. “Their 45th-53rd players are strong. You won't see that around the league, but that's what you have in San Francisco.”