Head coach Jim Harbaugh was noncommittal on Wednesday about whether or not linebacker Aldon Smith, just back from six weeks away for substance-abuse treatment, would play Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
But according to the San Francisco Chronicle, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was much more certain: He expects the All-Pro to be on the field chasing Cam Newton come Sunday afternoon.
How much we see Smith will depend on his conditioning and Fangio said there has been some evident rust in practice this week.
“He was a little rusty, obviously, from the six-week layoff,” Fangio said. “But I expect him to get it back very quickly. He’s not like a guy coming off an injury that he’s got to overcome. He’s just got to overcome inactivity. You know, six weeks is a fairly long time, but not that long to where he can’t get back into the swing of things pretty quickly.”
From a purely football perspective, the 49ers could use Smith, who last played in San Francisco’s Week 3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts yet still leads the team with 4.5 sacks on the season. The 49ers have 17 sacks through eight games, a little off the pace from 2012, when the defense logged 38 quarterback takedowns—with Smith recording more than half of those at 19.5.
It’s possible Smith could be used situationally, coming in to rush the passer in obvious throwing situations. He had 14 sacks being deployed that way in 2011 as he transitioned from playing defensive end at the University of Missouri to being a stand-up linebacker in the NFL.