49ers Rookie WR DeAndre Smelter Returns to Practice, Hopes to Play in 2015

Very quietly, without fanfare, DeAndre Smelter worked his tail off behind the scenes during the first half of the San Francisco 49ers season.

The rookie wide receiver spent several hours each day training with the team's medical staff to rehab the torn ACL that he suffered during his senior season at Georgia Tech. Now almost a full year after the injury took place in December of 2014, Smelter is back on the football field.

San Francisco opened the three-week practice window for their fourth-round pick on Monday. The 49ers now have 21 days to decide if they want to activate him to the 53-man roster or place him on the season-ending Injured Reserve List.

Smelter didn't report any setbacks during his rehab and said he's ready to put the injury behind him.

"I'm not nervous at all," Smelter said. "I put the work in already. So it's just getting back adjusted to everything and being back out there. It's a process, and this is just another step."

On Monday, Smelter took part in a team walkthrough, followed by an informal practice session for players with less than three years of NFL experience. The team had Tuesday off before a more rigorous practice on Wednesday.

Smelter expected that Thursday would be the most physically demanding day yet.

"I had a chance to get back out there and move around a little bit," Smelter said. "The knee is holding up well and everything feels good."

Fellow wideout Torrey Smith is among those who have been impressed with what they've seen from Smelter in the limited sample size.

"He's doing well," Smith said. "He's moving well, which is a good thing to see when guys come back from injuries. That rehab process is tough. I'm happy for him.

"He's catching the ball very well, and there's no hitch in his run. I think that's a credit to him and the medical staff as well."

Smelter, who caught 35 passes for 715 yards and seven touchdowns in 2014 for the Yellow Jackets, knows that he will need a couple weeks to get back into football shape. That means a few weeks of going against a defensive back in practice, cutting on his knee while running routes and going through the post-practice regeneration routine.

The team will use that time to watch how Smelter competes in practice and how his knee responds to the workload. That's when a decision will be made about the wideout's status for the remainder of the season.

"We haven't talked about it really," Smelter said. "We've been taking everything step-by-step, just trying to make sure I'm ready mentally and physically." 

But if you ask Smelter, he'll tell you he has no plans to spend the team's final games on IR.

"I would love to play this season," Smelter said. "(But) that's not in my hands. There are a lot of factors that play into it. … Whenever they need me, I'll be ready."

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