Derek Smith is back in action. Jeremy Newberry says he will be by Sunday. If that's the case, the 49ers' regular starting lineup will be intact against the Chicago Bears for the first time since Oct. 1.
Smith is San Francisco's middle linebacker and leading tackler. He calls the signals for the defense. Newberry is the team's aggressive center. He makes the adjustment calls for the offensive line. But neither has done any of that since the Niners beat the Jets 19-17 in New York to begin the month. Newberry suffered a severely sprained left ankle in that game, and Smith tore the medial collateral ligament in his left knee two days later.
The team's recent bye week helped significantly in the healing process for both, though Smith said he would have been able to play if called upon had the Niners had a game last Sunday.
"But it was probably good we didn't have a game," said Smith, who practiced in full pads on Wednesday. "It helped a lot. I feel a lot better coming back from the weekend. I'm just feeling stronger every day." Newberry was held out of team drills Wednesday, but he ran some during the morning and announced that he will be ready to play by Sunday. He is expected to return to full practice on Thursday.
"It's a lot better," Newberry said Wednesday. "I'm optimistic I'll play this week. The week off really helped. I plan on doing a lot more tomorrow than I did today. I plan on playing this weekend." Coach Steve Mariucci still isn't so sure. "We'll have to watch him practice and see how he feels the next day," Mariucci said. "All the options are still available to us." Those options include having regular right guard Dave Fiore play center, as he did Oct. 14 against the Falcons, with Matt Willig moving into Fiore's position at guard. Fiore continued to work at center in practice Wednesday.
The Niners were forced to juggle their offensive line when Ben Lynch - Newberry's backup - also suffered a severely sprained ankle in the Oct. 7 game against Carolina. Lynch hasn't played since and will miss "several weeks" according to Mariucci. In other injury news:
--- Safety Lance Schulters, who dislocated his right shoulder in the win over the Falcons, practiced in pads Wednesday and is expected to start against the Bears. Schulters was listed as doubtful last week, but he has been upgraded to probable.
--- Lynch, tight end Greg Clark (right hamstring), defensive tackle Reggie McGrew (right ankle) and running back Jonas Lewis (right groin) all are listed as out against Chicago. Each player is expected to miss several more weeks, and it's possible Clark and Lewis each could miss the remainder of the season.
--- Receiver J.J. Stokes, who has battled nagging leg injuries since the season began, is not on the injury report this week and "seems to be as healthy as he's been," Mariucci said.