There are plenty of interesting story lines this week in what could be the Panthers toughest test since playing the Seahawks in week one.

Aldon Smith is expected to play on Sunday according to SFGate

The 49ers' straight-shooting defensive coordinator said he expects the All-Pro outside linebacker to play, and his snap count will depend on his conditioning level after a six-week layoff. In his first full practice since mid-September on Wednesday, Fangio said it was clear Smith hadn't recaptured his form.
"He was a little rusty, obviously, from the six-week layoff," Fangio said. "But I expect him to get it back very quickly. He's not like a guy coming off an injury that he's got to overcome. He's just got to overcome inactivity. You know, six weeks is a fairly long time, but not that long to where he can't get back into the swing of things pretty quickly."


I expect Smith to play in situational pass rush downs. Being out 5 weeks in the NFL is pretty rough. While he could stay in shape cardio wise, gameday shape is something else entirely. It will be another week until he is back to full speed.

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Harbaugh praises Steve Smith and recounts his short stint with the Panthers...

“I don’t think I’m very surprised,” he said. “He’s one of the all-time greats at the position. I could go back and talk about that because that was my last year in football, that was the last time I even played football. Steve Smith has done great things since then. I didn’t do anything.”


Pretty smart to give Smitty as much respect as you possibly can. Its for the good of your entire defensive secondary.

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49ers up in the air on kick and punt return duties...

After a struggling Kyle Williams was replaced as the 49ers’ kickoff returner in the second half of a 42-10 win over the Jaguars on Oct. 27, Jim Harbaugh told nosy reporters to stop asking questions about the switcheroo.
“We are not going to talk about the controversy of who the returner is,” he said. “There is no returner controversy. If there was a quarterback controversy I could understand talking about that, but I’m not going to talk about a returner controversy.”


Harbaugh understands this game will be a tough defensive match up. The difference in the game could be a special teams play. Keeping the Panthers in the dark about who will be returning kickoffs and punts is part of the game. However, if Graham Gano can continue to boot the ball out of the end zone, it won't matter all that much.

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WRs Manningham and Crabtree back at practice...

Manningham, who is returning from two torn knee ligaments suffered last Dec. 23 in Seattle, is further along than Crabtree and is likely to play Sunday against the Panthers. He was not listed on Wednesday's injury report and practiced in full.
"The knee I had surgery on is better than the other one," he said after practice. "So I'm not thinking about that when I'm out there."


Crabtree will not play on Sunday but Manningham is expected to. Manningham is a formidable receiving threat, but it remains to be seen how much speed he has lost post injury. Panthers fans know all to well what leg injuries can do to a promising wide receiver even if spirits are high (see David Gettis).

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Harbaugh's Father in Law "Cam is the Future of the NFL"...

“(He) continues to grow and blossom into a top-shelf quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “My father-in-law, Merrill Feuerborn, was adamant that Cam Newton was the, we had to get Cam Newton and he was the future of the NFL. You’ve got to give him credit, I mean, he saw that. He saw some things in Cam Newton, which we all did. But, I think all the football world saw at that time and we weren’t in a position to pick him. He’s been a great addition to the league and to the Carolina Panthers, he’s a great player.”


Listen to your elders, Jim, they know.... they know...