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Justin Smith injury update: Performance on Saturday will dictate playing time

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Justin Smith continues to practice as the 49ers prepare for the Green Bay Packers. We break down what could happen on Saturday.

Ezra Shaw

The San Francisco 49ers hit the practice field on Tuesday, and it is probably safe to infer that Justin Smith will be on the field this Saturday against the Green Bay Packers. According to the beat writers, Smith was taking part in practice, although he likely would be listed as limited for the session. After two weeks of not practicing, Smith has hit the field every day of practice since the bye week, so that is a very positive sign.

At the same time, we'll have to wait and see just how much playing time he gets on Saturday. As most recall, Redskins QB Robert Griffin III was limited with a knee injury heading into Sunday's wild card game against the Seahawks, and then proceeded to aggravate it at least two times. Although the Redskins jumped out to a 14-0 lead, RGIII's injury started to detract from the offense. There are assorted reasons for the Redskins loss, but RGIII's health did not help matters.

Vic Fangio was asked about this situation as it relates to Justin Smith this Saturday. Fangio's response:

Well, from my point of view, if he's not playing up to his standard or close to it then we'll put the next guy in. Because it's always been my experience, somebody at 80 percent is not as good as the next guy at 100 percent.

It is easy to joke about how a 1 1/2 armed Justin Smith can still beat most offensive linemen, but it is a very serious question heading into this game. Smith is dealing with an injury that will require surgery and several months of rest and rehab. Even if he guts through it, I think we would be naive to think it won't impact him. Smith's ability is due to significant strength, and if one of his arms is hampered by the injury, it impacts his strength.

I do think it makes sense to send him out and see how he looks early on. I was fine with RGIII starting the game, but I think at the very worst, they should have removed him when the team was up 14-0. There was no doubt he was hampered by the injury, and the Redskins had gotten an incredible amount out of him up to that point. Obviously there is plenty of hindsight involved, but during the game anybody with two eyes could see RGIII limping around. It was plain as day.

Even though losing Smith during the game leaves the team short-handed in terms of bodies, I still think it's worth the risk if Smith and the doctors think he can go. If he ends up needing to be replaced, so be it. We'll see how the week of practice progresses, but it is safe to say Justin Smith will get his shot at playing time on Saturday.