The San Francisco 49ers officially have Aldon Smith back on their 53-man roster. The 49ers activated him, and made room by placing rookie first-round pick Jimmie Ward on injured reserve. Smith returned to practice this week, following the end of his 9-game suspension. The team was granted a one-week roster exemption, but if they wanted him active for Sunday's game against the New York Giants, they had to clear out a roster spot.
Ward has been dealing with an injury but the move to injured reserve is surprising. It's unclear if his new foot injury is related to the injury he was dealing with throughout the offseason. Whatever the case, it ends his rookie season. There were some good things and some bad things and ultimately, he should be clearly in the cornerback picture next season.
Smith's return is huge for a pass rush that saw some big plays by Aaron Lynch and Ahmad Brooks, but had generally been weak this season. Through his first three seasons, Smith has 42 sacks in 43 games. Nobody has done that before. One could argue he has been the most effective player in NFL history at getting to the quarterback. It's absurd how good he has been through the first three seasons of his career.
Dan Skuta is not expected to play on Sunday, so that leaves the 49ers with Smith, Lynch and Brooks to rotate around the outside linebacker and nickel defensive end roles. I suspect we see Lynch and Brooks start, and Smith get work primarily in the nickel, but the team could do some rotation as needed. Lynch was solid starting last week, so if they want to ease Smith back in, they have the option.
San Francisco did not activate Glenn Dorsey from injured reserve, meaning Quinton Dial is likely getting the start at nose tackle.