Justin Smith today was in uniform for the first time since his Dec. 16 triceps injury. Smith, wearing a plastic brace over his left arm, warmed up with his fellow defensive linemen and went through individual drills. It was the defensive lineman's first on-field injury since partially tearing his triceps tendon in the third quarter against New England.
Smith, nicknamed "Cowboy," was voted to his fourth straight Pro Bowl last month. His streak of 185 starts had been the NFL's third longest and the most for a defensive lineman until his recent injury. Smith missed most of the second half against the Patriots and the next two games vs. Seattle and Arizona.
Smith was the team's most dominant player in the postseason last year. He told The Bee last week that he's felt stronger and more confident about his arm as time has gone on and that he would be on the field for the team's Jan. 12 playoff opener. The 49ers will host the Packers, Seahawks or Redskins.
The defensive linemen isn't much of a talker, but he spoke at length in the spring about windows of opportunity and how quickly they can slam shut. Smith noted that a 49ers defense that boasts six Pro Bowlers this year mostly is full of youngsters or players in their prime. Smith, 33, is closing out his 12th season.
"I figure I got three more good years in me, four more good years," Smith said at the time. "I don't want to be the guy that becomes the third-down guy, plays 17 (snaps), I don't want to do that. I'm figuring, let's go.
"Time is of the essence for me, personally," Smith continued. "Not everyone else. We have a young defense. But I think everyone feels the urgency ,and we've got the guys right now. Let's not wait."
- Matt Barrows