The San Francisco 49ers departed for New Jersey Friday afternoon, and most of the beat writers were already on their way east. There were a limited number of questions for Jim Harbaugh, so it was a fairly quick press conference.
Harbaugh talked about NaVorro Bowman's MRI (sort of), how Chris Borland has emerged, the issues of travel, and how Aldon Smith has looked thus far. On Thursday, Vic Fangio said Smith looked rusty in his first practice back. Fangio said he had not decided what the plan was for Smith's playing time on Sunday, and he wanted to see the next two days of practice before making that decision.
When Aldon Smith returned from rehab last season, he played in 12 of 66 defensive snaps in his first game back, against the Carolina Panthers. He said he was ready for more, but the team took their time getting back into gear. Fangio said that his return this year would likely be more difficult because he had not played in the regular season prior to the suspension. Some believe that because Smith was at meetings and doing strength and conditioning work, he would be in good shape from the get-go. Fangio suggested that last year even though he was away from the team for rehab, he had the games before that to get into game shape initially.
It is entirely possible Fangio is sand-bagging on this. At the same time, there is not an extensive track record of players returning from a lengthy suspension. Players have had long suspensions, but there is not a significant sample size to know what to expect in Smith's first game back. I suspect he'll get some mix of nickel work, but beyond that, I'm not entirely sure. Dan Skuta is unlikely to play on Sunday, so that likely means some rotation between Smith, Ahmad Brooks and Aaron Lynch. It will be intriguing to see how the 49ers work in their various pass rush threats.
With the results back from LB NaVorro Bowman's MRI, where does that leave you in terms of his immediate future?
"Well, I'm not skilled to read an MRI and the doctors are, so I know Dr. [Tim] McAdams, Dr. [James] Andrews have looked at it and I'm sure they'd be willing to share their thoughts with you."
Have the doctors talked to you about his timetable for a return to practice?
"Again, I'll refer to expert medical opinion at reading MRIs."
How did LB Aldon Smith look to you in practice today?
"Good. He's looked good all week. Been great. He's had a bounce in his step and looks like he's enjoying it. Having fun out there and that's been great to see."
LB Chris Borland, his measurables at the combine weren't off the charts in terms of 40 times or height-weight. How's he been able to make such an impact with you guys as a rookie?
"A very talented player. Means a lot to him. Gives great effort. Very smart and executes all his assignments and he did that in college. As we evaluated him through the draft, I know he may in his family and have other people that are big fans of his, but I'm tied for at least his number one fan through the draft evaluating process and since he's been here."
You talked about Aldon. I guess 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said yesterday he was a little rusty Wednesday, but this was before he practiced yesterday and then today. Has he gotten better as the week's gone on and are you confident he can contribute in some way on Sunday?
"Yeah. I mean, as you go, as you're thrown back into action, the biggest thing is that the instincts get honed, the reflexes are honed as you go each day."
How big a challenge is it just the travel, to go to New Orleans and come back and then you go to New York? As you know, this is your last, from here on out I think you're in the west coast and really in the Bay Area for five of the six games. How big a challenge is that to turn around and go to New York again?
"Well, the biggest challenge is going over to play a very good football team in their stadium. It's a road game. Those are the greatest share of the challenge, the task."
You've had people from different walks of life talk to the team before. Some of the wrestling stars are around today. Is there any chance they would address the team or spend any time with those guys?
"Not today. We're on a really tight schedule today."