Smith aims to throw next week, return Oct. 21

A few days ago, it hurt to even steer his car down the road. But now the pain in Alex Smith's separated right shoulder "definitely feels significantly less," the 49ers' quarterback said Thursday. Smith said surgery is "not at all" in the plans for his recovery, not even after the season is over, and that he hopes to throw by next week and possibly push his way back into the lineup by Oct. 21.

"That would be the goal," Smith said about returning to his starting position for San Francisco's game that Sunday against the New York Giants, which comes after the 49ers return from their Oct. 14 bye week.

Despite the severity of his injury – a Grade 3 shoulder separation that can take between two weeks to two months or longer to heal properly – Smith says doctors have indicated that it's possible he could return to action that quickly. Backup Trent Dilfer will take Smith's place behind center for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens that takes the 49ers to their bye.

"The bye week helps," Smith said. "I miss this game, then have the bye, and hopefully get back after missing just (the Seattle and Baltimore) games."

The progress his shoulder has displayed over the past two days and a discussion Smith had Wednesday with noted orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews indicates that early return might not just be wishful thinking.

Smith tore two ligaments that connect his shoulder to his collarbone when he was driven into the ground by Seattle defensive tackle Rocky Bernard on the third play of San Francisco's 23-3 loss to the Seahawks last Sunday.

After examining results of Smith's Magnetic Resonance Imaging exam, Andrews agreed that Smith would not need surgery and that there is very little structural damage within the shoulder. The ligaments will scar back together and heal naturally.

"The ligaments are torn, but everything around it - the separation and everything as far as the collarbone - looks good," Smith said. "I didn't have much separation because all the muscles are intact. It's a fairly good spot, so the ligaments start scarring down and it's really a matter of getting the swelling out of that area. It looks good. My collarbone wasn't displaced, and everything around it is pretty healthy and kept intact."

Smith had his right arm resting in a sling in the San Francisco locker room Thursday, but he said that was just to isolate and immobilize the shoulder to promote healing.

The third-year veteran said he came to work Wednesday a bit disconcerted by rumors that had spread through the media that the separation was more serious than originally thought and he would need surgery.

But speaking to Andrews himself alleviated those concerns.

"I even got pretty scared driving in yesterday morning," Smith said. "You're reading stuff in the newspaper and stuff on-line, and I don't know what's going on. Sometimes, that's how it works. That's how rumors spread, and I didn't know how true it was."

Smith said getting a second opinion from Andrews always was a part of the plan. Smith said Jeff Ferguson, the 49ers' head trainer, is close with Andrews, as is Smith's agent, Tom Condon, "so he wanted to have (Andrews) take a look at it just to make sure. Ferg thought it was a great idea as well," Smith said.

Now, Smith said, he's basically waiting for the swelling, which is isolated in the capsule area at the top of his shoulder, to subside so that that he can "let the recovery process start, start moving it around and start testing it."

Smith said there is no damage to his rotator cuff and that the injury has nothing to do with his throwing motion.

"We'll take this week to get the swelling out, begin movement next week and see if I can starting throwing again and get back towards so a couple of weeks from now I'll be able to practice," Smith said. "Hopefully this week we have a lot of movement below the shoulder. And then next week, hopefully get above the shoulder. As far as what they're talking about a matter of pain, as far as playing with it and throwing with it, there's no danger of hurting it. The only danger is getting hit again and landing on it."

Smith said it was a bit difficult for him to sit on the sidelines watching practice as Dilfer took over with the first-team offense.

"You see Trent running what was your huddle," Smith said. "So you do want to get back as fast as possible. That's the biggest goal, and obviously their (doctors and trainers) job is to be safe with it, they're going to err to be cautious and safe. I think, at this time, you just push yourself and get back as fast as you can and, obviously, in the long run you're going to make a smart decision."


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