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Justin Smith Returns to Practice

Posted Jan 3, 2013



The Cowboy isn’t back in the saddle just yet, but he’s getting closer.

All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith hadn’t played or practiced since suffering an arm injury against the New England Patriots in Week 15, but he stepped back on the practice field Thursday for individual and group drills.

Throughout his 12-year career, Smith hasn’t spent much time on the sidelines. So it was a bit odd to see him cheering on his teammates for two straight contests after starting in 185 consecutive games dating back to his rookie year in 2001.

But the one they call “Cowboy” sounds optimistic he’ll be able to return by the Divisional Round playoff game on Jan. 12 at Candlestick Park.

“It’s definitely different, but it is what it is,” Smith said of being a spectator the past two games. “You go from there. (If I'm) fortunate enough, I get to play in this one and see what happens.”

Smith was fitted with a brace on his left arm during the portion of practice open to the media and was a limited participant.

But the tough-nosed Pro Bowl starter for the NFC was quick to downplay his return to the field. It sounds like he’ll get his true test once he steps between the lines next Saturday.

“We haven’t really played or done anything yet,” Smith said. “Hopefully they run right at me and we’ll find out quick.”

News of Smith’s return to the defense was well-received by his teammates. Fellow Pro Bowler Dashon Goldson has been Smith’s teammate since he joined the 49ers in 2008, so he knows how important Smith is to the team’s overall success.

“It’s good to have him back,” the star safety said. “He’s one of our key players on defense, so guys got to respect him and prepare for him when he’s out. His presence back on our defense is definitely good for us.”

Smith said he tried not to pay attention to the brace on his arm throughout practice and that he will likely need to undergo another MRI after the season to determine the full extent of his injury. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has previously said that Smith will likely need surgery following the season to repair the partially torn triceps and bone spur in his left arm.

“I think it’s just a matter of getting out there and going,” Smith said. “You just go out there and play ‘til you can’t and be ready. I feel like I’ll be ready.”

The 49ers enter the 2012 postseason in a similar situation as the 2011 playoffs. Not only are they NFC West champs, but they hold the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. Looking ahead to next week’s game, Goldson said the 49ers have to build off of the experience they gained in reaching overtime of the NFC Championship game last year.

“Just stay more focused and eliminate all the mistakes we made last year,” Goldson said. “Just make sure we stay focused on the fundamentals that got us here – tackling, knowing what we’ve got going on and being sound in our defense and our scheme.”