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All-Pro inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman is eligible to return to the 49ers' practice field next week, but it appears to be a near-certainty that Aldon Smith will beat him back into the lineup.
Smith is serving a nine-game suspension for violations of the NFL’s policies on substance abuse and personal conduct. He is eligible to begin practicing on Nov. 10. He is on pace to make his season debut Nov. 16 at the New York Giants.
And Smith expects to be able to step in immediately, according to 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
[MAIOCCO: 49ers desperately need Aldon Smith]
“He told me last week, I asked him how’s he’s doing with his conditioning and fitness, he says, ‘I’m the most fit guy in this building’ he told me,” Fangio said Tuesday morning on the "Murph and Mac Show" on KNBR. “He seems to be doing well along those lines. We’re looking forward to his return down the line.”
Bowman continues to rehab from the severe knee injury he sustained in the NFC Championship game. He is on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list and is not eligible for the first six weeks of the season.
But Bowman will require several additional weeks to be ready to practice and get ready for game action, Fangio said.
“NaVorro’s doing well in his rehab,” Fangio said. “He still has to be out two more games, at least, then he’ll be out several after that. But he’s doing well. He’s had no roadblocks in his rehab. Everything’s gone smooth. He’s ahead of where he should be and we’re looking forward to his return at some point.
“I think at some point he’ll eventually play (this season). But right now it’s still later than sooner. . . He’s going to need a couple weeks of practice to get his legs under him and feel comfortable playing on his leg.”
After the sixth week of the season, each player on PUP or non-football injury begins a six-week window during which time the club can get him back on the practice field. Once a player returns to practice, there is an additional three-week period, at the end of which, the team must activate the player to the 53-man roster, place the player on injured reserve or release the player.