SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Coming off the 49ers' overtime win over the New Orleans Saints, Jim Harbaugh is expecting the return of at least one of his All-Pro linebackers.
"Very much look forward to that," Harbaugh said Monday. "...there’s consequences for our actions, good and bad."
"There’s accountability. He has served that. He has done that and look forward to moving forward in a fresh, clean slate. That’s what I anticipate and look forward to."
What kind of role Smith will have in New York remains in question. Rookie fifth-round pick Aaron Lynch played well at strong side outside linebacker Sunday while being on the field for 100 percent of the defensive snaps for the first time in his career.
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Ahmad Brooks, who was having a sub-par season after notching second-team All-Pro nominations the last two years, made one of the biggest plays of 2014 for San Francisco when he knocked the ball out of Drew Brees' hand in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal Sunday.
After Smith returned following a five-absence while at an in-patient treatment facility midway through last season, he played 24 percent of the team's plays (12 of 67) in his first game back, a 10-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Smith has remained at the team's facility during the suspension as apart of an agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association. He has been able to participate in team meetings and workout at the facililty, but has not been able to practice.
"I’m excited to have him back playing football, with the team. I think that’s where the hope, the excitement lies right now," Harbaugh said.
Lynch has been one of the many bright spots among the team's linebacking corps that's been without Smith, NaVorro Bowman and now Patrick Willis for various portions of the season. The 49ers came out of Sunday's win with the league's No. 2 overall defense despite those absences.
Lynch is second on the team in quarterback hurries with 17, according to Pro Football Focus, and has two sacks.
Chris Borland, who has led the team in tackles over the last two games while Willis has been out with a toe injury, recovered Brees' fumble forced by Brooks to help win the game. He also notched a game-high 17 tackles.
"He’s doing a great job," Harbaugh said. "He does have, he’s got a sense for the ball, watching it in practice. And you watch it in the games and he’s like a thief in the night. He’s going to get under somebody, get around somebody. Look how far he went to get that fumble. He was the furthest guy away from that pile, that point where the ball was. Slashed in there and then secured it. I thought it was a great play."
With 42 sacks in 43 career games, Smith became the quickest player to 30 sacks (27 games) in NFL history after getting drafted with the 7th-overall pick in 2011.