Can Josh Shaw help 49ers this season?

Josh Shaw's rookie season now is on the clock. The 49ers' fifth-round draft pick returned to practice this week looking willing and able, but it's still uncertain whether the Niners will activate the young defensive tackle in the next three weeks or place him on a season-ending injury list - which seemed to be their plan for him when the season began.

But Shaw, the intriguing prospect from Michigan State who had major surgery on his right knee after being injured last year as a senior, has shown progress in individual workouts the past two months with physical development coordinator Jerry Attaway.

"It feels great," Shaw said. "It felt great a long time ago." As far as learning the team's defensive schemes without actually participating in them, Shaw said, "That's all I've been doing. I haven't been practicing. I've been learning the defense so when I do get in there, I'll know what to do. Knowing the plays is half the battle."

Shaw returned to practice with the team on Wednesday from the reserve/non-football injury list, where he has languished since training camp in July.

"That means his three-week clock will begin and we need to decide if and when to activate him," said Niners coach Steve Mariucci, who then detailed the options the team is considering regarding Shaw's status. "If (the knee) is not ready and it's not going to be, we could place him on injured reserve. Or, if it looks like he's going to be healthy enough to activate, then we could place him on the 53-man roster within that three-week period. But then, at that point, we'd have to make room for him."

The Niners conveniently cleared a roster spot that eventually could go to Shaw when they released defensive tackle Ross Kolodziej earlier this week, leaving the team with just three defensive tackles. Veteran Jim Flanigan currently is the only backup to starters Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield.

The Niners will take a long look at Shaw during the three-week window to determine if he can help the team this season. He has good quickness and moves well at 6-foot-2 and 290 pounds. If the team does add him as a fourth tackle, it's likely he would get an opportunity to contribute at some point in the season, since it was evident in last week's loss to the Saints that the Niners could use another fresh body at times in their tackle rotation.

Shaw says he is ready to play. But like the team, he is waiting to see how his knee holds up to the pounding of full practice drills.

"I think I'll be able to (play this season)," Shaw said. "That's what I'm hoping for. It depends on how it feels when I go out there. I've just got to show them what I can do. I've got to show them I can run well, play blocks, contribute to the team."

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